A Liberian doctor who treated victims of an Ebola epidemic and then contracted the disease himself has died even though he was given the experimental drug ZMapp, Liberia's information minister said on Monday.
Abraham Borbor's death could curb optimism about the drug that mounted last week when two US aid workers who caught Ebola in Liberia were declared free of the virus after receiving the same treatment at a hospital in the United States.
People in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are desperate for a cure for the contagious hemorrhagic fever that has killed at least 1,427 people since March in the deadliest outbreak the world has seen.
But Mapp Biopharmaceutical says it will take time to replenish its exhausted stocks of ZMapp and scientists say it is too early to confirm the value of the medication that has been tested on laboratory animals but not previously on humans.
The disease has reaped a grim toll on healthcare workers, often working long hours in tough conditions at low-tech facilities, often lacking adequate protective gear.
Nearly 100 have died, according to the World Health Organization, including doctor Sheik Umar Khan, who was considered a hero in his native Sierra Leone for leading the fight against Ebola.
Doctors at the Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) facility where he was treated agonized over the ethics of giving him ZMapp and the risk of a backlash if it was perceived to have killed him. They decided against it.
Victims suffer vomiting, diarrhoea, internal and external bleeding in the final stages of the disease, leaving their bodies coated in the virus.
Liberia, where Ebola is spreading fastest, received three doses of ZMapp on August 13 and used them to treat three doctors: Borbor and Zukunis Ireland from Liberia and Aroh Cosmos Izchukwu from Nigeria.
Initially, officials said they were responding to treatment but Information Minister Lewis Brown said Borbor died on Sunday. A Spanish priest treated with ZMapp this month also died.
There are other drugs in the pipeline and the outbreak has added urgency to research into a disease with no cure or vaccine, but all the drugs are unproven and have yet to clear even the initial stage of clinical trials.
In one sign of potential progress, four monkeys survived Ebola after being injected with Immunovaccine Inc's experimental vaccine, the Canadian company said on Monday, an announcement that sent its stock soaring.
West Africa's first Ebola outbreak was detected five months ago in the forests of southeastern Guinea but it was not until August 8 that the World Health Organization declared an international health emergency and promised more resources.
That delay drew criticism from some health groups, who said the UN health agency should have responded faster.
"It appears that the outbreak is still advancing and is advancing in many parts of the country (Sierra Leone)," David Nabarro, Ebola response coordinator for the United Nations, told a news conference in Sierra Leone.
In a bid to stop the virus, West African governments have closed borders, halted flights from affected countries, stopped international conferences and increased medical provision.
Liberia declared a curfew last week and put two neighbourhoods under quarantine.