Abbas Dulleh, Associated Press
MONROVIA, Liberia — Africans battling to contain the spread of Ebola will have to wait for months until a potentially life-saving experimental drug used on two Americans infected with the dreaded disease would even be manufactured, officials said. Soldiers in two of the infected countries deployed Thursday to try to stem further spread of the virus.
Even if the experimental drug ZMapp is manufactured in large quantities, its ability to treat Ebola is unproven and furthermore no commitment has been publicly made to provide it to Africa.
The health minister of Nigeria, one of the four countries where Ebola has broken out, told a news conference in Washington that he had asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about access to the drug. But a CDC spokesman said Wednesday "there are virtually no doses available."
Some people in affected countries already have wondered why the drug wasn't offered to any infected people in Africa. Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health said the manufacturer has told the U.S. government that it would take two to three months to produce even "a modest amount."
"We don't even know if it works," he stressed.
President Barack Obama, who hosted an Africa summit this week, pledged to help "nip as early as possible any additional outbreaks of the disease.
"And then during the course of that process, I think it's entirely appropriate for us to see if there are additional drugs or medical treatments that can improve the survivability of what is a very deadly and obviously brutal disease, Obama said Wednesday.
Underscoring desperate attempts to stop the disease, which has killed almost 1,000 people since March, troops deployed to block people traveling to Liberia's capital Thursday from rural areas hit by Ebola. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a national state of emergency, and officials said Thursday that no one with a fever would be allowed in or out of the country.
In neighboring Sierra Leone, military forces also deployed as part of "Operation Octopus" which officials said was aimed at preventing "the unauthorized movement of Ebola-infected persons."
While the outbreak has now reached four countries across West Africa, Liberia and Sierra Leone account for more than 60 percent of the deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The outbreak that emerged in March has claimed at least 932 lives.
"This outbreak, because of its size and its geographical extent, certainly merits an extraordinary response and we know countries have announced they must take extraordinary measures, so that is understandable from a public health perspective," said WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl in Geneva.
Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown vowed stringent surveillance at the country's international airport where many flights have been cancelled because of the outbreak.
"We are facing a threat of the greatest proportion," Brown said. "No one, absolutely no one will be allowed to enter or leave our country with temperature above normal."
The unprecedented measures came after a man sick with Ebola in Liberia boarded a flight and ended up in Nigeria, Africa's most populous nation, where a nurse who treated him is now dead from the disease and several other people are infected. The traveler also died.
Ebola is spread only through direct contact with the bodily fluids of people showing symptoms which include a fever, body aches and vomiting and progresses to internal and external bleeding.
Experts warned that extreme measures risk driving patients and their families further underground out of fear. The best way to track possible exposures is through community leaders who are known and respected, they say.
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