Number of Ebola-hit rises to 1,825, but virus can be controlled: WHO

A senior World Health Organization official said on Sunday that the number of Ebola cases in Africa has risen to over 1,800; but the virus can still be stopped.

Dr Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security at the United Nations body, said in a television interview that there have been 1,825 cases and more than 900 deaths in the four most affected African nations, and numbers are expected to continue to grow.

Fukuda said the disease can still be contained if international authorities ''scale up'' their response to the outbreak, blaming weak health facilities in underdeveloped nations for the spread of the virus.

Even as Fukuda said the disease can be controlled, WHO is still exploring the use of experimental treatment for the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Currently there is no registered medicine or vaccine against the virus, but there are several experimental options under development.

The recent treatment of two health workers from Samaritan's Purse with experimental medicine has raised questions about whether medicine that has never been tested and shown to be safe in people should be used in the outbreak and, given the extremely limited amount of medicine available, if it is used, who should receive it.

''We are in an unusual situation in this outbreak. We have a disease with a high fatality rate without any proven treatment or vaccine,'' says Dr Marie-Paule Kieny, Assistant Director-General at the World Health Organization. "We need to ask the medical ethicists to give us guidance on what the responsible thing to do is.''

The gold standard for assessing new medicine involves a series of trials in humans, starting small to make sure the medicine is safe to use. Then, the studies are expanded to more people to see how effective it is, and how best to use it, WHO said in a release last week.

The guiding principle with use of any new medicine is 'do no harm'. Safety is always the main concern.