Another leading physician in Sierra Leone’s fight against Ebola has died from the disease, an official announced Wednesday.
So far, Ebola has infected more than 1,848 in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, and Nigeria, and 1,013 people have died. Those numbers include 52 new cases of Ebola reported between Aug. 7 and Aug. 9. Many of the dead are health workers, who often work with inadequate supplies and protection.
Dr. Modupeh Cole died on earlier today, according to Sidie Yayah Tunis, director of communications for Sierra Leone’s Ministry of Health and Sanitation. Trained in the United States, Cole was one of the top doctors working in the isolation ward in Freetown’s Connaught Hospital. He tested positive for the disease last week and received treatment from Doctors Without Borders. Fearful Connaught staff briefly went on strike Friday and Saturday upon hearing his diagnosis.
News of Cole’s death came amid further controversy about the use of experimental drugs to treat victims. The World Health Organization declared on Tuesday it is ethical to use untested drugs and vaccines, and Canada subsequently donated up to 1,000 doses of its experimental Ebola vaccine.
But the WHO revealed Wednesday it had denied a different Sierra Leonean doctor the now-depleted experimental serum given to American missionaries Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol.
Nearly three weeks ago, doctors decided against giving the drug to Sheik Humarr Khan, the chief doctor treating Ebola in Sierra Leone. WHO tried to airlift Khan out of the country, but “his condition had deteriorated too much,” officials said. He died July 29, before the Americans received the serum.
In a statement issued this afternoon, Doctors Without Borders said it made the difficult decision to withhold the serum because Kahn had already started developing antibodies to fight the disease: “Every day, doctors have to make choices, sometimes difficult, about treatment for their patients. Trying an untested drug on patients is a very difficult decision, particularly in the light of the 'do no harm' principle.”
Anger has been rising in Africa because the only people to receive this particular experimental treatment, called ZMapp, have been Westerners. The Spanish government procured a dose to give a priest in Madrid, but he died Tuesday. It’s not clear whether he received the treatment or not.
Doses of ZMapp for two Liberian doctors could arrive as soon as Wednesday in Liberia, according to Liberian Health Minister Walter Gwenigale. But that caused a different discontent among some. “The Liberians can count on their government, but Guineans can only count on God in the face of Ebola,” said Assiatou Diallo, a nurse in Conakry, Guinea’s capital.
San Diego-based Mapp Biopharmaceutical says it has no doses of the serum left. Produced in tobacco plants, the antibodies necessary for another batch could take months to produce.
The body of Spanish priest Miguel Parajes was to be cremated Wednesday to avoid any public health risks, a Madrid hospital said. He was working for the San Juan de Dios hospital order, a Catholic group, helping to treat people with Ebola in Liberia when he became ill and was evacuated.
NPR reports that St. Joseph’s Catholic Hospital, which Parajes directed, has been shuttered for two weeks after the disease spread among staff. The hospital wasn’t equipped for Ebola, and the medical director said seven staff members were also diagnosed with the disease. St. Joseph’s had prided itself on staying open even through Liberia’s bloody civil war in the 1990s. But the 140-bed facility will stay closed at least two more weeks, as the Liberian Ministry of Health hasn’t disinfected the wards. Ebola has an incubation period of 21 days.