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article imageExperimental Ebola drug shows promise, but more help is needed

By Calvin Wolf     Aug 4, 2014 in Health
The current Ebola outbreak in west Africa is the deadliest in history, but a possible silver lining of the infection of Americans assisting in the region is that the U.S. medical research sector will now focus intensely on the infamous virus.
The Ebola virus has captured the nightmares of individuals all over the world, with the possibility of dying from painful hemorrhagic fever making even the toughest men cringe. With a mortality rate of 60 to 90 percent and treating the unpleasant symptoms as the only option, few viruses have the potential to spark a panic like Ebola. In the United States, much buzz has been generated by the news that two Americans assisting with the epidemic have been infected with the Ebola virus and have returned stateside for advanced medical care. According to CNN, an experimental drug called ZMapp has allegedly improved the condition of both Americans.
While the news of ZMapp's apparent benefit is tremendous, what is less positive is the fact that treatments for Ebola have been sparsely tested and doctors are prevented from administering unapproved medicines even in emergency situations. Despite the mounting death toll in Africa, doctors on the ground are not able to begin administering ZMapp, which was developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Inc after 2003.
Millions of dollars have been spent in recent years to develop drugs to prevent or treat Ebola, but progress has been slow due to multiple factors, ranging from government regulations to the difficulty of working with an extremely deadly and rare virus. Since Ebola outbreaks are rare, there are often few or no human patients upon which to experiment. And, given the lethality of the virus, it is unlikely that anyone would allow human volunteers to infect themselves in order to test various treatments.
According to CBS News, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) is willing to expedite research to develop a vaccine for Ebola. While testing vaccines is much safer than testing treatments, since vaccines are received by healthy people with the intention of preventing infection, it can be more difficult to determine if a vaccine is effective. Critics are wondering if drug companies are willing to invest in an Ebola vaccine given the relatively small size of the market: Despite its high mortality rate, Ebola occurs naturally only within a limited geographical area. There is little demand for an Ebola vaccine in North America or Australia, for instance.
The sad fact that the world's worst virus lives in one of its poorest region raises lots of ethical and moral issues when it comes to developing treatments and vaccines. Many wonder who should shoulder the financial burdens of Ebola and whether the entire world, perhaps through the United Nations, should share in the effort of preventing and treating lethal, exotic diseases. Also at issue is responsibility for containing an epidemic or pandemic: Could local, regional, or national authorities be held liable by neighboring countries for failing to stop the spread of Ebola or other diseases?
More about Ebola, Ebola virus, ebola outbreak, Medical research, Medicine
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