Opting Against Ebola Drug For Ill African Doctor

The New York Times reported: “The doctor who had been leading Sierra Leone’s battle against the Ebola outbreak was now fighting for his own life, and his international colleagues faced a fateful decision: whether to give him a drug that had never before been tested on people.

Would the drug, known as ZMapp, help the stricken doctor? Or would it perhaps harm or even kill one of the country’s most prominent physicians, a man considered a national hero, shattering the already fragile public trust in international efforts to contain the world’s worst Ebola outbreak?

The treatment team, from Doctors Without Borders and the World Health Organization, agonized through the night and ultimately decided not to try the drug. The doctor, Sheik Umar Khan, died a few days later, on July 29.

The doses of the drug that were not used were eventually sent to Liberia, where other doctors made the opposite decision — and two American aid workers became the first people in the world to receive ZMapp. Both of them survived and are now being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

“It’s a little political; that’s what it looks like to me,” Alhajie Khan, Dr. Khan’s brother, said of the decision. “Why would you not give it to him? The guy who helped all of these people.”

The provision of ZMapp, which is in extremely limited supply, to foreign aid workers has raised broad ethical questions about the disparities in treatment between white outsiders and the Africans who form the overwhelming majority of victims in the epidemic.

Those concerns were heightened further after Spanish officials confirmed that they had obtained a supply of ZMapp for a third patient, a 75-year-old Spanish priest who died Tuesday after having been evacuated to Madrid from Liberia.

The previously untold story of Dr. Khan, recounted by two doctors involved in discussions about whether to use ZMapp, offered an unusual glimpse into the wrenching ethical dilemma of when and how experimental drugs should be used to combat the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Had the treatment team decided differently in his case, the first person treated with the drug would have been African.”

Click here to read the full New York Times article “Opting Against Ebola Drug for Ill African Doctor” by Andrew Pollak.


Doctor, Did You Wash Your Hands? ™ provides information to consumers on understanding, managing and navigating health care options.

Jonathan M. Metsch, Dr.P.H., is Clinical Professor, Preventive Medicine, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; and Adjunct Professor, Baruch College ( C.U.N.Y.), Rutgers School of Public Health, and Rutgers School of Public Affairs and Administration.

This blog shares general information about understanding and navigating the health care system. For specific medical advice about your own problems, issues and options talk to your personal physician.

Leave a Reply

Your email will not be published. Name and Email fields are required.