Researchers: 30K need Ebola drugs to contain outbreak

British scientists say production of experimental Ebola drugs and vaccines must be ramped up, estimating that at least 30,000 people need access to medications to stop the current outbreak.

Health officials have been fighting to contain the deadly outbreak in West Africa, which has killed 1,350 people. So far, there are no approved drugs or vaccines, and stocks of experimental treatments have either been depleted or are scarce.

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Oliver Brady, an epidemiologist at Oxford University, and his colleagues added to their estimate the estimated number of people who have been infected, family members and friends who have come into contact with the infected, and health workers who are at risk for contracting Ebola.

They told the scientific journal Nature that even “under a conservative scenario,” around 30,000 people should either have access to Ebola drugs or get vaccinated for the disease to effectively stop it from spreading.

“Our analysis is crude and has very clear limitations,” wrote Brady. “But it does demonstrate that for treatment and prevention interventions to be rolled out evenly and fairly, stocks must be scaled up substantially.”

Recently, the World Health Organization said Ebola patients could be treated ethically with experimental drugs and vaccines because the disease is so deadly.

The experimental Ebola drug ZMapp has been given to two American missionaries who have shown improvement. A Spanish priest who was treated with the drug, however, died.

The last known doses of ZMapp were recently given to two Liberian doctors and a Nigerian doctor who have also shown improvement. However, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) says it will take months to develop less than a hundred doses of the drug, which they caution still hasn’t been proven to be a cure.

The NIH is also scrambling to develop a vaccine for Ebola with British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline that it hopes to administer to health workers some time next year if it is found to be effective.

Brady says even though Ebola drugs and vaccines have not been approved for human use, governments and drugmakers need to ramp up their production in a desperate bid to bring the outbreak under control.

“The scale of the ongoing outbreak may tilt the politics and economics to speed the development of a drug or vaccine,” he said. “But it also makes it difficult to scale up production and distribution. All involved must rise to meet the challenge.”

Governments have been scrambling to accelerate clinical trials for various Ebola treatments but say they are still months and possibly years away from getting them ready for use. 

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