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West African Doctors Plead For Access To Experimental Ebola Serum


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. More than 1,000 people have died from Ebola since the outbreak began earlier this year. The virus is taking a particularly high toll on health workers. Over 100 have fallen sick, with about 80 reported deaths. Ebola-affected countries are asking for access to experimental drugs that were given to foreign health workers, and today Liberia received some of the drugs. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton sent this story from Sierra Leone, about who should and who can get the drugs.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: An American doctor and his hygienist colleague, and an elderly Spanish priest who all worked in Liberia, were given doses of the experimental drug ZMAPP. Now, Liberian doctors are to receive the new serum. Liberia's health minister Lewis Brown in an interview with the BBC, said the risks are worth taking.

LEWIS BROWN: The alternative to not testing this is death - is certain death, if you will. We know there may be a risk associated with it, but choosing a risk and choosing dying - I'm sure many would prefer to choose to see that risk happen

QUIST-ARCTON: The survival rate in this Ebola outbreak is about 45 percent -considerably higher than in earlier outbreaks. The Americans remain under care in Atlanta, but the Spanish priest has died after returning to Madrid. Despite survivals, this is the worst Ebola outbreak ever recorded, with nearly 2000 cases reported. Nigeria preceded Liberia in seeking access to the experimental drugs. Here in Sierra Leone, the focus is increasingly on the risks facing health workers.

SHEIK HUMAR KHAN: Yes, health workers are prone to the disease because we are the first point of call for somebody who is sick by this disease. It's all about contact. It's all about body fluids.

QUIST-ARCTON: The late Dr. Sheik Humar Khan. He was the country's top virologist - leading the campaign against evil in Sierra Leone. The World Health Organization says doctors caring for Dr. Khan considered giving him a dose of the experimental drug ZMAPP, but decided against it. The WHO confirmed the decision was made after quote "taking clinical and treatment conditions into account." Doctor Khan succumbed to Ebola late last month. In an interview before he died, he described to local journalist, Umaru Fofana, how he carefully put on his protective gear, before attending to Ebola patients.

KHAN: I make sure whenever I'm going into the isolation unit, I make sure I am in full PPE - basic standard personal protective equipment are being given. The mirror there is the policeman! I look at myself again, objectively, without somebody else looking at me and telling me I'm fine. So, we have that at the back of our mind - we are mindful of those facts.

QUIST-ARCTON: Sierra Leone lost a second Ebola doctor today. Modupeh Cole, the consulting physician at the main hospital here in the capital Freetown, died after testing positive for the virus. Health workers have been protesting in Kenema, an Ebola hotspot in the east, and one of two districts currently sealed off by troops. Last month, nurses complained that the Ebola isolation unit was located in the compound of the same Kenema government hospital where patients were being treated for other ailments. Sierra Leone's health minister, Miatta Kargbo, told NPR she's aware of their fears and concerns.

MIATTA KARGBO: We are doing all we can as a government to ensure the security and safety of our health workers. There are pockets of resistance even in the health worker communities, but we're taking it seriously in terms of incentive, in terms of insurance coverage - all of these are being taken into consideration.

QUIST-ARCTON: Asked whether Sierra Leone was too slow to react to the Ebola outbreak, the minister said responding to the virus was not simple.

KARGBO: The fight against the Ebola - it is not just a one-day thing - you come in today and say this is the silver bullet. There is fear. It's new for all of us in the way it has come down like a heavy stone - this dreadful disease.

QUIST-ARCTON: The health minister says Sierra Leone's military blockade of the eastern Ebola epicenters and the quarantine of homes by soldiers and police should help. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton NPR News, Freetown. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is an award-winning broadcaster from Ghana and is NPR's Africa Correspondent. She describes herself as a "jobbing journalist"—who's often on the hoof, reporting from somewhere.

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