A Liberian doctor who was among three Africans to receive an experimental Ebola drug has died, the country's information minister said Monday, as a top U.N. delegation promised more help for countries battling the virulent disease during a visit to Sierra Leone.
Dr. Abraham Borbor, the deputy chief medical doctor at Liberia's largest hospital, had received the untested drug, ZMapp, after it was given to two Americans. After receiving medical car in the U.S. they later survived the virus that has killed about half of its victims.
A Spanish missionary priest infected with Ebola also received the treatment but died. There was no update given on the two other Liberians who took the last known available doses of ZMapp.
Borbor "was showing signs of improvement but yesterday he took a turn for the worse," and died Sunday, Information Minister Lewis Brown told The Associated Press.
Ebola has killed more than 1,400 people across West Africa in the countries of Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria. A separate Ebola outbreak emerged over the weekend in Congo, though experts say it is not related to the West African epidemic.
In Sierra Leone, the World Health Organization said Monday it is replacing its country representative. More international help is badly needed, said Dr. David Nabarro, who is coordinating the U.N.'s response to the Ebola crisis.
"The effort to defeat the Ebola disease is not a battle but a war that requires everybody to work together and effectively, and it is not easy to make a judgment as to whether we are winning the war or losing it," he told journalists at a news conference in the capital.
There is no proven vaccine or cure for the disease that can cause a grisly death with bleeding from the eyes, mouth and ears. The virus can only be transmitted through direct contact with the bodily fluids of the sick or from touching victims' bodies, leaving doctors and other health care workers most vulnerable to contracting it.
Only six people in the world are known to have received ZMapp. The small supply is now said to be exhausted and it is expected to be months before more can be produced by its U.S. maker.
Health experts caution that the drug had never been tested in humans before and it is unclear whether it works. They note there is a huge gap between the treatment the two Americans got at an Atlanta hospital, where five infectious disease experts and 21 nurses provided rigorous care, and West Africa, where even such basics as sterile fluids can be in short supply.
Japan said Monday it is ready to provide a Japanese-developed anti-influenza drug as a possible treatment for the rapidly expanding Ebola outbreak.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that Japan can offer favipiravir, developed by a subsidiary of Fujifilm Holdings Corp., at any time at the request of the World Health Organization.
The drug, with the brand name Avigan, was developed by Fujifilm subsidiary Toyama Chemical Co. to treat new and re-emerging influenza viruses, and has not been proven to be effective against Ebola.
Favipiravir was approved by Japan's health ministry in March for use against influenza. Fujifilm is in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, through a U.S. partner, Medivector, to prepare for clinical testing of the drug in treating Ebola, company spokesman Takao Aoki said.
He said Ebola and influenza viruses are the same general type, and a similar response can theoretically be expected from Ebola.
Favipiravir inhibits viral gene replication within infected cells to prevent propagation, while other anti-viral drugs often are designed to inhibit the release of new viral particles to prevent the spread of infection, the company said.
The company has enough stock of favipiravir for more than 20,000 patients, Aoki said.
Suga, the Cabinet spokesman, said Japan is watching for a decision by WHO that would provide more details on the use of untested drugs against Ebola. In case of an emergency, Japan may respond to individual requests before any further decision by WHO, he said.
WHO said earlier this month that it is ethical to use untested drugs on Ebola patients given the magnitude of the outbreak.
Several drugs are being developed for the treatment of Ebola. They are still in the early stages and there is no proven treatment or vaccine for the often fatal disease.
Recently, two American doctors recovered from Ebola after being treated with the experimental drug ZMapp, though it was unclear whether they were cured by the drug.
However, a Liberian doctor who was among three Africans to receive ZMapp recently died, the country's information minister said Monday.
Only six people in the world are known to have received ZMapp. The small supply is now said to be exhausted, and it is expected to be months before more can be produced by its U.S. maker, Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc.
ZMapp had never been tested on humans, although an early version worked in some Ebola-infected monkeys. It is aimed at boosting the immune system's efforts to fight off Ebola.
Asked about the drug being offered from Japan, Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown said, "Although we will continue to emphasize prevention, we remain open to all available curative opportunities."
Ebola has killed more than 1,400 people in West Africa in the latest outbreak.