As the death toll from this latest Ebola outbreak edges closer to 1,000, a group of "experts" has come forward with calls to start administering experimental medicines to West Africans. The Los Angeles Times reports that Peter Piot, who is credited with co-discovering the Ebola virus back in the 1970s, along with several others is urging the World Health Organization (WHO) to allow mass medical experimentation with drugs and vaccines that have never been safety tested.
Along with David L. Heymann from the Chatham House Center on Global Health Security and Professor Jeremy Farrar from the Wellcome Trust, Piot is playing the crisis card in an attempt to bypass the normal assessment and approval process for experimental drugs. If he and the others get their way, every West African will eventually have access to drugs and vaccines that have never undergone any testing for safety or efficacy.
"This epidemic is now so extensive that we can expect it to last for some months yet," wrote the trio in a statement. "That means the West must fast-track safety testing of drugs and vaccines in unaffected countries, so that those which perform well could go into fuller trials in the affected region before the outbreak ends."
Drug companies using Ebola outbreak to push vaccines
An experimental drug known as ZMapp, manufactured by the San Diego-based drug company Mapp Pharmaceuticals, has already been given to two Americans who recently returned from Liberia infected with Ebola. Meanwhile, dozens of African doctors and healthcare specialists have perished without the drug due to stricter regulations on the use of untested medicines.
Some claim this "double standard" is unfair, however, and are calling on WHO to alter its guidelines to allow this drug and others to be given without proper human testing. Since the situation is a crisis, they claim -- panic is the obvious driving factor behind rushing drugs to market as quickly as possible -- drug companies should apparently be allowed to peddle their untested wares on a desperate public.
"It is highly likely that if Ebola were now spreading in Western countries, public health authorities would give at-risk patients access to experimental drugs or vaccines," added the statement. "The African countries where the current outbreaks of Ebola are occurring should have the same opportunity."
Clinical trials on Ebola vaccine to begin this fall
Based on the way the drug industry is responding to this crisis, it is almost as if all the media coverage about Ebola is one big marketing campaign to generate fear, which in turn drives people to demand access to untested drugs and vaccines.
"Give us what you have! It would be unfair to keep this 'secret serum' from the public!" might be among the cries heard from the crowds, stricken with terror over the prospect of contracting this deadly disease themselves.
This is most likely the impetus behind the push to conduct the first human clinical trials on a supposed Ebola vaccine this fall, according to media reports. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), told reporters that, if successful in trials, an Ebola vaccine could be available to healthcare workers as soon as mid-2015.
Meanwhile, natural treatments for Ebola already exist, according to some research. One plant-based compound, genistein, was identified in a recent study published in the journal Archives of Virology as having the ability to not only quell disease symptoms but also increase survival rate. Genistein is found in fava beans, kudzu, coffee, and red clover, among other foods.
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