Pharmacists mobilize, WHO affirms use of experimental Ebola drugs

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Pharmacists at the forefront of Ebola outbreak

Between August 19 and 20, 142 new cases of Ebola and 77 deaths were reported from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Nigeria, according to the latest disease outbreak news release from the World Health Organization (WHO). The current outbreak has led to 2,615 total cases and 1,427 deaths, CDC reported on August 22.

Pharmacist fatalities

Community pharmacy professionals are among the Ebola fatalities of health care workers in Sierra Leone, according to an article on the International Pharmaceutical Federation’s (FIP) website. According to the article, “one pharmacist and four pharmacy technicians have died, all five from the community pharmacy sector [in Sierra Leone].” FIP also noted that a report from the Pharmaceutical Society of Sierra Leone reported the death of a pharmacy technician who was practicing in a community pharmacy in Kenema.

Pharmacist action

“Pharmacists, as the first point of care for many people, have an important role to play in such emergencies, not only in terms of vigilance but also on a wider scale such as raising awareness and knowledge and providing advice to travellers,” said Luc Besançon, CEO and general secretary of FIP, in the article.

Pharmacists in Africa are stepping forward to help in any way they can. The Pharmaceutical Journal, published by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, reported the launch of an initiative by the Pharmaceutical Association of Liberia in which pharmacists and student pharmacists plan to visit drug stores to provide information to staff about preventing the spread of Ebola. The journal also reported that pharmacists will hand out flyers in Liberia’s capital of Monrovia that explain how citizens can protect themselves and to provide accurate information about the virus.

Experimental therapies

There are currently no FDA-approved vaccines or drugs to prevent or treat Ebola.

According to CDC, all treatments for Ebola are in the earliest stages of development. The drug ZMapp, developed by Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., was administered to two aid workers who contracted the virus and have been discharged from Emory University Hospital. The agent is still in an experimental phase and has not yet gone through human for safety or effectiveness, although planning for phase 1 clinical trials is under way.

CDC reported that two other companies, Tekmira and Biocryst Pharmaceuticals, are working on possible agents for Ebola treatment, although both are still in the early development phase. Newlink is currently working on an Ebola vaccine candidate and BioCryst is working on antiviral drug to treat the Ebola virus.

On August 12, a 12-member ethics panel at WHO gave permission to use experimental medications in the West Africa Ebola outbreak. “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,” according to a statement on WHO’s website.

The panel stressed that ethical criteria must guide intervention. “These include transparency about all aspects of care, informed consent, freedom of choice, confidentiality, respect for the person, preservation of dignity and involvement of the community,” according to the statement.

False products

FDA recently issued a statement cautioning consumers to be aware of medications sold online that claim to prevent or treat the infection. “There are no approved vaccines, drugs, or investigational products specifically for Ebola available for purchase on the Internet,” the news release said. Pharmacists should advise their patient to report false products to FDA at www.fda.gov/Safety/ReportaProblem/ucm059315.htm.

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