TIME Infectious Disease

WHO Endorses Use of Experimental Ebola Drugs

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World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan with assistant director-general for health security Keiji Fukuda  on August 8, 2014 in Geneva. Alain Grosclaude—AFP/Getty Images

Hours after a Spanish priest died of the virus

The World Health Organization endorsed the use of untested experimental drugs for Ebola patients on Tuesday, hours after a Spanish priest died of the virus and the outbreak’s death toll in West Africa passed 1,000.

An ethics panel ruled that the drugs, which have not yet passed clinical trials but have shown early promise in combating the virus, could provide a “potent asset” in the battle to contain the epidemic, which it called the “most severe and most complex outbreak of Ebola virus disease in history.”

“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,” members of the panel said in a statement.

The experimental drug ZMapp has been administered to two American patients, who are receiving specialized care at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, and had been obtained for a Spanish priest who died in a Madrid hospital on Tuesday, the New York Times reports.

The death of Father Miguel Pajares, 75, who was evacuated from Liberia last week, marks the first Ebola-related one to occur on European soil in this outbreak. Hospital officials did not say whether Pajares had been treated with the experimental drug, the Times added.

WHO officials said the experimental drugs should only be given after the patient has been fully informed of the risks and freely chooses to undergo the treatment. It also declared that sharing results of the treatment was a “moral obligation” for health workers in the field.

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