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Ebola-stricken African doctor dies after getting experimental drug

Liberia women walk, after praying for help with the Ebola virus, in the city of Monrovia, Liberia. Associated Press/Photo by Abbas Dulleh

Ebola-stricken African doctor dies after getting experimental drug

An African doctor who received an experimental Ebola drug has died, Liberia’s information minister said Monday. Dr. Abraham Borbor, the deputy chief medical doctor at the country’s largest hospital, had been among three Liberians to receive the drug, ZMapp.

Americans Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol received the untested drug and survived, prompting some to call it a miracle serum. But a Spanish priest believed to have received the treatment also died, fueling experts’ doubts that the drug is significantly effective. The conditions of the other Liberians, who took the last known available doses of ZMapp, are unknown.

Meanwhile, Britain has evacuated 29-year-old William Pooley from Sierra Leone to London’s Royal Free Hospital. The first British citizen confirmed with Ebola, Pooley was a volunteer nurse at an Ebola treatment center. The British Department of Health said Sunday that Pooley “is not currently seriously unwell.”

More than 225 health workers have been infected and nearly 130 have died during the current outbreak, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which is trying to evacuate one of its own doctors, a Senegalese man, from Sierra Leone. “This is the first time someone working under the aegis of WHO has fallen ill with the disease,” WHO officials said Monday.

The virus can only be transmitted through direct contact with the bodily fluids of the sick or from touching victims’ bodies, making doctors and other healthcare workers most vulnerable to contracting it. No approved treatment or vaccine exists. Doctors can only keep patients hydrated, leaving the ill-equipped African countries to provide the best fluid regimens they can obtain.

The WHO gave its blessing earlier this month to use other untested drugs on Ebola patients, given the magnitude of the outbreak. Japan announced Monday it would be willing to offer an anti-influenza drug, if asked. Since the viruses are somewhat similar, Japanese officials said it might be worth trying.

Rapidly growing totals of 2,615 infections and 1,427 deaths have been recorded in the outbreak now hitting West Africa, the WHO announced Friday. Liberia has 1,082 of those cases, with 624 deaths. But WHO official say those numbers aren’t accurate because families hide patients, fearing the fatality rate and ostracism that often comes with a diagnosis. Sierra Leone passed a new law Friday imposing up to two years in prison for anyone caught hiding an Ebola patient.

Concerns are rising in Nigeria as two new cases bring that country’s total to 14. The two patients were infected by their spouses, both medical workers who had direct contact with Liberian-American Patrick Sawyer, who flew into Nigeria from Liberia and infected 11 others before he died in July. The spouses were monitored daily and quickly quarantined, but they’re still the first Nigerians not to have direct contact with Sawyer, denting hopes that Nigeria will contain the virus.

A separate Ebola outbreak emerged over the weekend in Congo, though experts say it is not related to the West African epidemic. Unlike West Africa, the Congo has had at least six other flare-ups of the disease since the 1970s.

Elsewhere, the Philippine government said Sunday it would issue a mandatory evacuation of 3,500 Filipinos in Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. A growing list of countries have imposed travel restrictions to and from West Africa, even though they aren’t recommended by the WHO. Speaking Friday in parliament, Sierra Leone majority leader Ibrahim Bundu criticized the developed world, claiming Sierra Leone had suffered “abandonment and isolation from those we viewed to be our biggest friends.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Andrew Branch Andrew is a World Journalism Institute graduate and a former WORLD correspondent.

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