Not enough Ebola drugs - WHO

Geneva - Stocks of experimental Ebola drugs will be too small to immediately quell the virus outbreak in West Africa, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

It also warned that existing infrastructure is insufficient to administer such medications.

There are no approved Ebola pharmaceuticals.

Given the size of the outbreak and the weak state of health services in West Africa, WHO chief Margaret Chan advised last month that it is ethical to use medical products to fight Ebola, even if they have not been fully tested.

But supplies of experimental medicines and vaccines are either extremely limited or exhausted, according to a draft report prepared for a two-day WHO meeting of drug company representatives, scientists and health officials that started on Thursday in Geneva.

Stocks will also not rise for several months, the report said.

"This is especially true for therapies, where expected supplies are not thought likely to have a significant immediate impact on the outbreak," it added.

Ebola fatalities have reached 1 900 in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, with more than 3 500 total reported cases. Another outbreak, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, is confirmed to be independent of West Africa's epidemic.

On Wednesday, the director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said there is a narrowing window of opportunity to make an impact in the spread of the virus.

"The situation is bad, it's worse than I and others had feared," the director, Dr Tom Frieden, said after an trip to West Africa. "The number of cases is increasing rapidly; the human tragedy is heartbreaking.

Out of control

"This is an epidemic - the world's first epidemic of Ebola. And it is spiralling out of control," he added.

Also on Wednesday, WHO warned about a potential larger outbreak in Nigeria's Port Harcourt, where a local doctor fell ill. He had numerous contacts with his community, including a healing ritual where people touched him, before he died.

In Geneva, experts and officials gathered to discuss how best to administer experimental-stage Ebola drugs and vaccines in West Africa, and how to monitor their use.

In addition to supply problems, it will be difficult to give the drugs to those who need them, WHO said.

There would be problems in safely transporting medications to delivery sites and to store them in safe, cooled facilities, the draft report said.

In addition, there is a lack of sterile infusion equipment, health care providers and local medical knowledge to detect side effects, it added.