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Experimental Ebola drug ZMapp sent to Liberia

Treatment given to two US aid workers, may have been administered to a Spanish priest who has since died

Liberia has announced that it will receive doses of an experimental Ebola drug to treat infected doctors. 

The news came amid growing anger over the fact that the only people to receive the experimental treatment so far had been Westerners. Two Americans were treated with several doses of ZMapp, and it was also sent to a Spaniard, Miguel Pajares, who has since died. All three were evacuated to their home countries from Liberia. 

Pajares, a priest, died on Tuesday in a hospital in Madrid. He was the first European infected by the strain of Ebola that has killed more than 1,000 people in West Africa. He was airlifted from Liberia on Aug. 7 after contracting the disease while working for a nongovernmental organization in the West African country. It wasn't clear if he was treated with ZMapp before dying.

A statement published on Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's website on Monday said the United States approved her request to ship ZMapp to the Liberia after a direct appeal to U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday. 

A representative for the U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) Department said U.S. authorities simply assisted in connecting the Liberian government with the drug's manufacturer.

"Since the drug was shipped for use outside the U.S., appropriate export procedures had to be followed," the HHS representative said, adding that the drug company worked directly with the Liberian government.

The Liberian statement said the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan, authorized the dispatch of additional doses of the experimental drug to Liberia to support the treatment of affected doctors. Those doses will be delivered by a WHO expert this week. 

A panel of medical experts from the WHO ruled Tuesday that it is ethical to offer unproven drugs or vaccines to people affected by the Ebola outbreak but cautioned that supplies would be limited.

"It is … likely that the number of doses available for further study and/or development from end 2014 onwards will remain insufficient to meet demand," the WHO said in a statement.

The panel — which met to discuss whether various experimental drugs being developed to combat Ebola could be used despite not being fully tested or licensed — said any provision of experimental medications would require "informed consent, freedom of choice, confidentiality, respect for the person, preservation of dignity and involvement of the community."

Lewis Brown, Liberia's information minister, told Reuters that it was not clear how many doses of ZMapp were sent, but they could be in Monrovia within the next 48 hours.

California-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical, which produces ZMapp, said in a statement on Monday that its supply was exhausted.

Global health emergency

The death toll from the world's worst outbreak of Ebola has climbed to 1,013 people, according to figures on Monday provided by the WHO, which has branded the outbreak an international health emergency.

The WHO said the epidemic would likely continue for months as the region's health care systems struggle to cope with the outbreak. It has urgently appealed for additional funding and emergency medical staff.

"Ebola outbreaks can be contained using available interventions like early detection and isolation, contact tracing and monitoring and adherence to rigorous procedures of infection control," the WHO panel said in a statement.

"However, a specific treatment or vaccine would be a potent asset to counter the virus," it added.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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