It's ethical to try untested Ebola medicines, says WHO

The World Health Organization declared Tuesday that it's ethical to use unproven Ebola drugs and vaccines in the outbreak in West Africa provided the right conditions are met.

The statement from the U.N. health agency came amid a worldwide debate over the medical ethnics surrounding the Ebola outbreak, which it has called an international health emergency. However the agency sidestepped the key questions of who should get the limited drugs and how that should be decided.

The statement came after the agency held a teleconference with experts Monday to discuss the issue.

WHO says 1,013 people have died so far in the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and authorities have recorded 1,848 suspected or confirmed cases. The killer virus was detected in Guinea in March and has since spread to Sierra Leone, Liberia and possibly Nigeria.

Two Americans and reportedly a Spanish priest have gotten an experimental Ebola treatment never tested in humans and two more Ebola treatments were said to be on their way to treat two doctors in Liberia. The vast majority of Ebola victims are Africans, and some nations have protested that their citizens are not getting access to the experimental drugs.

The Spanish missionary priest, 75-year-old Miguel Parajes, died Tuesday in a Madrid hospital, the hospital and his order said. The hospital would not confirm that he had been treated with the drug, but his order and Spain's Health Ministry said earlier that he would be.

WHO decided it is ethical to use experimental treatments and vaccines in an ongoing outbreak. There is no evidence yet that these experimental drugs can actually help fight Ebola - and it is possible they could be harmful. Still, this outbreak has had about a 50 percent death rate, according to the U.N., adding urgency to the search for a treatment.

"In the particular circumstances of this outbreak and provided certain conditions are met, the panel reached consensus that it is ethical to offer unproven interventions with as yet unknown efficacy and adverse effects, as potential treatment or prevention," the agency said in a statement.

The panel said "more detailed analysis and discussion" are needed to decide how to achieve fair distribution in communities and among countries, since there is an extremely limited supply of the experimental drugs and vaccines.

Pajares had been helping to treat people with Ebola at the San Jose de Monrovia Hospital in Liberia when he became ill, and was evacuated to Spain. He worked for the San Juan de Dios hospital order, a Spain-based Catholic humanitarian group that runs hospitals around the world.

Also Tuesday, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf suspended all travel by executive branch officials for one month. She also ordered those already abroad to return home within a week "or be considered as abandoning their jobs," according to a statement from her press secretary.

Most airlines flying in and out of the Liberian capital of Monrovia have suspended flights amid the unprecedented health crisis.