Ebola drugs must be 'fairly distributed and ethically tested'

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Researchers and health authorities need to ensure that experimental drugs to treat Ebola are distributed fairly and in the context of randomized controlled trials, according to leading bioethicists Dr Annette Rid, Social Science, Health & Medicine at King’s and Professor Ezekiel Emanuel, University of Pennsylvania.

Published in The Lancet today, Dr Rid and Professor Emanuel outline critical ethical principles which need to be adhered to if experimental drugs are to be deployed in the Ebola outbreak, stating that the patients selected to receive such drugs must not be limited to well-off or well-connected patients – including health care professionals. They also point out that, given the limited supply of experimental drugs and their low probability of success, containment of the epidemic and strengthening health systems in affected regions should be a priority.

Moreover, it is vitally important that experimental drugs are provided to patients as part of randomized-controlled trials, in collaboration with local communities and other stakeholders, say the authors, and any communities who participate in research trials must receive fair benefits, such as access to any successful treatments.

Commenting on the experimental Ebola treatments, Dr Annette Rid, Senior Lecturer in Bioethics and Society, said: ‘Less than 10 per cent of candidate drugs make it from pre-clinical selection to commercial launch. Although promising in non-human primates, there is no reason to believe that the experimental Ebola interventions will be more successful. In other words, it is more likely than not that the interventions will not improve symptoms for patients, and might even weaken them as they battle a life-threatening disease. Experimental Ebola treatments or vaccines should only be deployed in clinical trials, and if trials are done, they must meet ethical principles for research.’

Professor Emanuel added: ‘Now that the global response to the Ebola outbreak is picking up, the international community needs more focus on strengthening of health systems and infrastructure and less on experimental treatments. Adoption of infection containment measures with a view to strengthening health systems and infrastructure is the most effective way to curb this epidemic and prevent future ones, and the international community now needs to show that it can meet the challenge of this public health emergency, while learning the lessons for future Ebola and other epidemics.’

Notes to editors

Read the full paper online.

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