United States President Barack H. Obama has authorized the use of the experimental drug used on two American nationals, who contracted the deadly Ebola virus disease in Liberia, to be used on two Liberian doctors, who, too, are fighting for their survivals after also contracting the virus, an Executive Mansion release said.
Doctors Abraham Borbor and Philip Ireland of the John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Sinkor, would be the first Liberians to try the new drug, which has only been used on three individuals—two in the US and one in Europe.
The drug’s trial, which has raised serious political and medical debate in Liberia, was firstly used on Samaritan Purse Dr. Kent Brantly and Nurse Nancy Writebol, both of whom are US citizens. A third US citizen, Mr. Patrick Sawyer, who also had a Liberian citizenship, died of the disease in Nigeria.
The third person that it was announced the drug would be tried on is a 75-year-old Spanish national, Father Miguel Pajares, who, too, contracted the virus in Liberia, while working at the Liberia Catholic Church-run St. Joseph Catholic Hospital in Monrovia. He has since been flown back to his native Spain.
According to the Executive Mansion, the White House and the United States Food and Drug Administration, Monday, August 11, approved the request for sample doses of experimental serum to treat doctors Borbor and Ireland.
The approval of the trail is in response to an August 8, 2014 communication sent to President Barrack Obama by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in which she requested the experimental serum to be used on the affected Liberian doctors.
The Executive Mansion said the experimental drugs are to be brought in the country by a representative of the U.S. Government later this week.
In a related development, the United Nations Undersecretary and Executive Director of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, has authorized the dispatch of additional doses of the experimental serum to Liberia to support the treatment of affected doctors. The experimental serum from WHO will be brought in by one of its experts later this week.
Health Min Gwenigale
Meanwhile, before this announcement came in late Monday evening, Liberia Health and Social Welfare Minister, Dr. Walter T. Gwenigale had earlier painted the possibility to Liberian lawmakers of Liberia receiving the Ebola virus experimental drug.
Appearing before the Liberian Senate on Monday together with other heads of Ministries and Agencies making up the Ebola Task Force, Minister Gwenigale said his Ministry has found the company that is manufacturing the drug, and that efforts are underway to get it from them, “and it is possible that we can get some of that drug.”
“Yesterday,” Dr. Gwenigale continued: “I was able to find the company, and talked to them (scientists) and they said if I do certain things, they will be able to see what they could do. When we made the formal request they said because this drug is not yet approved for use, for treating people, they have to get permission from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States before they can send it to us. So I think the FDA has said that it can come; we had to talk to one of our former Ambassadors accredited here who is now a diplomat in charge of African Affairs at the State Department.”
Minister Gwenigale had also informed the Senate at the Special Extraordinary Session that his Ministry has decided to separate the Ebola response from regular health activities, according to him, his Ministry has not been paying attention to other things that people are dying from.
“This morning, I wrote a memo designating Tolbert Nyenswah, Assistance Minister for Preventive Services to be the person that will response to Ebola questions, and he will be helped by our partners that are helping us. Dr. Bernice Dahn, who is the Chief Medical Officer will go back to try to rebuild our health system and deal with those issues that have nothing to do with Ebola.”
Dr. Gwenigale further disclosed that more help is now coming from the World Health Organization (WHO), US Disaster Relief and from the US CDC.
Regarding the provision of attractive salary and incentives for health workers, who are considered as frontline soldiers, Dr. Gwenigale said money needed to help the health workers is a budgetary matter that can be addressed by the Legislature. “If they put in the budget the amount of US$100 per person, I will be happy, but we calculated that and it went to US$10 million, minus other needs such as medicine for the health centers and clinics.”
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has suspended all travel by government officials who are part of the Executive Branch of Government with immediate effect.
According to an Executive Mansion release these include government officials of all Ministries, Agencies, Public Corporations, Commissions, and Parastatals that are under the Executive Branch for a period of one month.
The Liberian leader has also instructed all government officials currently out of the country, whether on government or private visit, to return home within a week or be considered as abandoning their jobs.
She is urging all government officials of the Executive Branch to take due note of this directive.
Other Appearance at the Senate
Also appearing at the session Monday, Defense Minister Brownie J. Samukai told the Senators that the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) came into picture as members of the Joint Security Task Force, with the mandate among other things, to ensure that the unprotected movement of citizens is managed, in the wake of the State of Emergency declared by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
During the containment, Defense Minister Samukai said the Army at the various checkpoints will among other stringent measures provide uninhibited movement of the health workers, members of the international community, diplomatic corps, government officials, all of which are to be screened without exception at those locations and allowed passage.
The Army will also allow movement of humanitarian goods, as well as rice, fuels and other necessities to locations that may be needed; and the commander insight might use his discretion on those issues he considers emergency to save life.
Minister Samukai confirmed the existence of long queues of vehicles at the Klay Checkpoint in Bomi County, and St. Paul Bridge between Bong and Lofa Counties. “We have no intention to allow those vehicles to pass; they need to wait for the next 21 days to hear what the health workers will tell them about the all-is-clear signal. Other than that we have no intention to allow those vehicles to pass. We will appreciate that no one calls from the public; from anywhere to us to want to grant special access or pass to anyone, we will refuse. I want to say that it is not out of disrespect, but just that all of us are Liberians can be a part of this one effort to contain this virus.”
He said it is not possible to manage Ebola cases if there is an outbreak in every sector of the society; and that it will not be possible for the security to provide the kind of assistance needed if containment is not put in place.
Meanwhile, there has been a suggestion by the health authorities that the Southeast of the country which is yet to be affected by the Ebola virus, to be cut off from the counties that are currently fighting the epidemic.