REUTERS and AP - Health care workers in Liberia have administered three doses of the rare, experimental drug ZMapp to three doctors suffering from Ebola, two medical workers in Monrovia told Reuters.
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Liberia, the West African country with the highest death toll from the tropical virus at 413, received three doses of the rare serum in a special consignment this week.
Doctors Zukunis Ireland and Abraham Borbor from Liberia and Dr. Aroh Cosmos Izchukwu from Nigeria are the first Africans to receive the treatment. The drug has already been administered to two American healthcare workers and a Spanish priest, all previously working in Liberian hospitals.
The U.S. healthcare workers' health has since improved but the Spanish priest died.
"Three doctors are currently being administered treatment with the experimental Ebola drug ZMapp. Treatment began on Thursday evening," said Dr. Billy Johnson, chief medical officer of John F. Kennedy Medical Centre in Monrovia where two of the doctors served before contracting the deadly virus.
A second healthcare worker at the Elwa centre which is housing the sick doctors confirmed that they were on their third day of a six-day ZMapp treatment.
Details of their condition are not known.
The UN health agency said only around 10 to 12 doses of the drug have been made and this raises difficult ethical questions about who should get priority access.
The apparent improvement in the two U.S. healthcare workers' condition has stoked popular pressure to make the drug available to Africans - a cause advocated by the Twitter hashtag group #giveustheserum.
There is currently no vaccine against the highly-contagious disease and other forms of treatment are only designed to relieve symptoms such as fever, vomiting and haemorrhaging.
Up to 90 percent of victims die - a fatality rate so high that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies the illness as a category A "bioterrorism agent" - although the current outbreak fatality rate is near 60 percent.
Liberia's President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has declared a state of emergency due to the outbreak, widely seen as the country's biggest challenge since the 1989-2003 civil war.
Health care workers fighting to stop the disease's spread in often overcrowded and ill-equipped clinics often succumb to Ebola themselves. The World Health Organization says that more than 170 healthcare workers have been infected and at least 81 have died.
U.S. President Barack Obama called Johnson-Sirleaf earlier this week to offer condolences for the country's losses and discussed control measures, Liberia said in a statement.
Liberia expands Ebola treatment in capital
Liberian authorities expanded Ebola treatment centers in the capital Saturday to cope with increasing numbers of patients, while two more airlines announced they were halting flights to the capitals of Liberia and Sierra Leone amid the deepening crisis.
Kenya Airways and regional carrier Gambia Bird join a number of other airlines in temporarily cancelling flights to avoid transmitting the disease beyond the four countries already affected in West Africa.
The Kenya Airways flights will stop as of midnight Tuesday, said Titus Naikuni, the chief executive officer of Kenya Airways. The decision was made with guidance from the country's health ministry, Naikuni said.
Gambia Bird said it had stopped flying to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria.
"The decision has been taken in the light of international concern about the further spread of the Ebola virus in the West African sub-region, and with the aim of continuing to offer a safe and reliable service to all customers, whilst also protecting the health and well-being of passengers and crew," the statement said.
Health experts have warned that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa may last another six months. At least 1,145 people have died across Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria, and that may "vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak," the World Health Organization says.
On Saturday, a newly expanded, 34-bed Ebola treatment center was opened at the John F. Kennedy Memorial Medical Center in Monrovia, health officials said.
Assistant health minister Tolbert Nyenswah told the Associated Press the new center "will start admitting patients this evening or Monday."
Another treatment center in the southeastern outskirts of Monrovia was expanded from 80 to 120 beds. That center will eventually be further expanded to take 300 patients.
Isolating Ebola patients is critical to slowing the spread of the disease, as sick people can transmit it through their bodily fluids such as blood, sweat or urine. There is no licensed treatment or vaccine for the disease, which has killed at least half of its victims this year.
Health workers treating Ebola patients on the front lines of the crisis have borne the brunt of the fatalities. Sierra Leone's president, Ernest Bai Koroma, told journalists Friday that his country has lost two top doctors and 32 nurses.
"We need specialized clinicians and expertise and that is why we are appealing to the international community for an enhanced response to our fight against the Ebola disease," he said.