The company that manufactures an experimental Ebola drug said Monday it had sent the last of the medication to a West African country after receiving a request last week.
“The available supply of ZMapp is exhausted,” Mapp Biopharmaceutical of San Diego said in a statement, adding that it provided the drug at no cost.
Mapp’s disclosure comes amid growing sensitivity over whether West Africans have access to a drug that has been given to some Westerners. But it also underscores the fact that ZMapp and other experimental drugs are in such short supply that the overwhelming number of Ebola victims have no hope of ever receiving them.
Mapp’s statement said the recipients “include medical doctors in two West African countries,” as well as two U.S. missionaries who received the drug in recent weeks. It is not clear what effect the drug is having.
A statement from the office of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Monday said the Obama administration and U.S. regulators approved a request from the country Friday for doses of the drug to treat Liberian doctors. The release also said Liberia expects to receive “additional doses” of the drug from the World Health Organization later this week, also to aid Ebola-stricken doctors.
Another Western patient was identified early Monday when Spain announced that it had obtained ZMapp to treat a 75-year-old priest who contracted the infection in Liberia. It credited two international health organizations — the WHO and Doctors Without Borders — with helping to secure the medication.
But the two groups, which are working to contain the Ebola outbreak, said they had no roles in obtaining the medicine for the priest, Miguel Pajares.
“WHO had no role in this,” Gregory Hartl, a spokesman for the organization, said in an e-mail. He declined to answer any other questions.
Tim Shenk, a spokesman for Doctors Without Borders, said in an e-mail that the organization “had an agreement allowing access to a course of experimental Ebola treatment held in Geneva specifically for compassionate use. Doctors Without Borders has in no way been involved in decisions about use of this treatment, nor in decisions about exporting it to Spain.” In a telephone interview, he said he did not know which agency in Geneva had the medicine nor how many doses exist.
The denials contradicted a statement released by the Spanish Health Ministry, which said it had obtained the treatment “from Geneva” under an agreement with Mapp and the two health organizations. The WHO is based in Geneva.
At least one government, Nigeria, has publicly asked for access to ZMapp.
Mapp and government authorities have said that very few doses of the medication exist. But that has not quelled a rising debate over whether ZMapp and other untested drugs should be used in West Africa, where Ebola had killed 961 people and sickened 1,779 as of last week.
“When you have less than a handful of doses, the ethical issues become almost impossible. There are no clear-cut solutions to this,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, adding that it remains uncertain how effective the experimental drug is.
Marcel Guilavogui, a pharmacist in Conakry, Guinea, expressed frustration in an interview with the Associated Press: “There’s no reason to try this medicine on sick white people and to ignore blacks. We understand that it’s a drug that’s being tested for the first time and that could have negative side effects. But we have to try it in blacks, too.”
Spain’s announcement came on the same day that a panel of specialists brought together by the WHO were debating whether the rising death toll from the epidemic warrants the use of medications that have not been tested on humans.
“There was definitely a sense of urgency,” said Jeanine Thomas, a patient advocate and founder of the Chicago-based MRSA Survivors Network who participated in Monday’s three-hour conference call.
“There’s going to be some swift movement,” she said. “This is an emergency.”
Luz Lazo and Lena H. Sun contributed to this report.