President Obama said Wednesday it was “premature” to fast-track an experimental Ebola drug for approval, even amid a deadly outbreak of the disease in Africa.
"I think we've got to let the science guide us," Obama said at a press conference at the U.S.-Africa Summit in Washington, arguing that more testing needed to be done. "And you know, I don't think all the information is in on whether this drug is helpful."
But providing the drug to the American health workers has sparked debate over whether the U.S. should be sharing the treatment with Africa, where more than 900 people have died from the outbreak.
One concern about deploying the drug — which reportedly costs thousands of dollars and requires careful handling — in Africa is the lack of a reliable public health infrastructure.
Obama stressed it was among his chief concerns as U.S. and African leaders work to contain the deadly virus.
"What we do know is that the Ebola virus, both currently and in the past, is controllable if you have a strong public health infrastructure in place," Obama said. "And the countries that have been affected are the first to admit that what's happened here is that their public health systems have been overwhelmed."
The president said that, as a consequence, Ebola "spread more rapidly than has been typical with the periodic Ebola outbreaks that have occurred previously."
Still, Obama said the U.S. had been coordinating with European partners and the World Health Organization to surge medical resources to the continent.
"Let's help to bolster the systems that they already have in place. Let's nip as early as possible any additional outbreaks of the disease," he said.
"And then during the course of that process, I think it's entirely appropriate for us to see if there are additional drugs or medical treatments that can improve the survivability of what is a very deadly and obviously brutal disease," Obama continued.
The president also looked to calm nerves by stressing that Ebola was not an easily communicable virus.
"Despite, obviously, the extraordinary pain and hardship of the families and persons who have been affected, and despite the fact that we have to take this very seriously, it is important to remind ourselves this is not an airborne disease," Obama said.
"This is one that can be controlled and contained very effectively if we use the right protocols."