NEW YORK – The World Health Organization will host a closed-door conference in Geneva with some 100 health-care experts from around the world to explore the alternative medical treatments and experimental drugs available to combat Ebola.
The WHO hopes the conference, Sept. 4-5, will lead to the approval of one or more treatments to combat the current Ebola outbreak in Africa.
WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib in Geneva explained to WND in an exclusive telephone interview that while journalists will be excluded from the meeting, the WHO will conduct a media advisory at the conclusion to allow journalists to ask questions.
The WHO decision to explore experimental Ebola drugs and treatments appears to have been prompted in part by a widely reported offer made Monday by the Japanese company Toyama Chemical, a pharmaceutical subsidiary of the photo giant Fujifilm.
The Japanese company will deliver to the WHO at no cost a quantity of the experimental drug Favipiravir, originally known as “T-705.” The drug is marketed by Toyama Chemical under the trade name “Avigan.” The company will supply enough doses for 20,000 people in an attempt to control the Ebola outbreak affecting West Africa.
Yoshihide Suga, a spokesman for the Japanese cabinet, affirmed Toyama Chemical is ready to ship the drug at any time to West Africa upon the approval of the WHO. He said Japan’s health ministry approved in March the use of Avigan against influenza.
Fujifilm is in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration through a U.S. partner, Boston-based MediVector, to prepare for clinical testing of the drug in the United States, the Associated Press reported Monday.
WND requested comment from the FDA and MediVector but received no response.
“The influenza virus and the Ebola virus are very similar,” Takao Aoki, a spokesman for Fujifilm, told Le Monde, noting a German research team has tested Avigan successfully against hemorrhagic fever.
WHO spokeswoman Chaib, declining to comment on the Japanese offer, explained to WND it’s not up to the WHO to decide whether or not to use certain drugs.
“Our role is to invite the consultation from qualified health professionals worldwide to decide if the WHO should recommend one or two of them, whatever number the conference decides, to the West African countries to use in combating Ebola,” she said.
Chaib said the attendees will evaluate each experimental treatment and drug known to be available.
“We will need to determine what level of testing has been done for each; for example, if they have reached the animal stage of testing or if the drug is in testing on human subjects,” she said.
“We will need to determine what type of treatment or drug each experimental method involves, whether it is a vaccine, or an anti-viral. Then the experts will decide to recommend or not some of them to be used in West Africa.”
Chaib said there are two separate outbreaks of Ebola in Africa.
“We have one outbreak in West Africa that involves the initial countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, plus Nigeria,” she said. “Then we have a new outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
Chaib insisted the two outbreaks in Africa are entirely separate events.
“The outbreak in Congo has nothing to do with the Ebola outbreak in West Africa,” she said. “Ebola did not show up in Congo because someone infected with the disease traveled from West Africa to Congo.”
She said the outbreak in Congo is relatively small, with only two confirmed cases.
In 1976, Congo was the first country in the world to experience Ebola, Chaib said, and the strain there now appears to be related to the original outbreak, not the outbreak in West Africa.
She also confirmed that health quarantines are being enforced in the districts or regions of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia regarded as “hot zones” of the outbreak.
“The areas that have been quarantined are areas where there are a lot of confirmed cases of Ebola and a lot of deaths,” she said. “This in line with WHO recommendations that ‘hot zone’ areas should be isolated, provided the general populations in the isolated are given what they need in terms of food, water and non-medical items, and the patients with Ebola get a full-range of medical care.”