At the end of the 2014–2016 West-Africa Ebola epidemic , a 25-year old woman, reportedly seven months pregnant, tested positive for Ebola virus disease in Forécariah province, Guinea. She was a follow-up household contact of a known Ebola patient who had died of the disease. At that moment, protective vaccination of Ebola-positive patient contacts with a potentially highly effective live vaccine was available ; however, because the woman was pregnant she had not been eligible for vaccination. Pregnancy was an exclusion criterion for vaccination during and after the vaccination trial, despite 90% mortality of pregnant women in previous Ebola Zaire strain epidemics according to available data [3, 4]. The patient also had a very high Ebola viral load, which further increased her mortality risk. The pregnant woman was admitted to an Ebola Treatment Center (ETC) managed by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF).
At the time of the patient’s admittance to the ETC, a randomized clinical trial of the experimental ZMapp (Mapp Biopharmaceuticals) was ongoing in Guinea and in several other countries . Pregnant women were eligible for inclusion in this trial in which patients were randomly allocated to either receiving only standard supportive care or to receiving the experimental ZMapp in addition to standard supportive care. MSF was not involved in the ZMapp trial. In all Ebola therapeutic trials where MSF was involved, patients received the potentially active drug and comparison was done with historical controls. This is linked to the organization’s belief that every patient infected by a disease with a mortality as high as Ebola should have access to potentially active therapeutics. MSF tried to obtain ZMapp for the pregnant patient outside of the randomized clinical trial because MSF thought that it was unethical to permit a 50% chance of denying this patient from receiving potentially life-saving treatment considering her extremely high chance of dying. Additionally, in the case of this patient, randomization for the purposes of the trial was irrelevant: finding similar patients with corresponding characteristics (pregnancy history, viral load, et cetera) given the epidemiologic situation at that time was very unlikely, so she would have been a complete outlier in the trial. Moreover, she was among the last cases of the epidemic.
ZMapp outside clinical trial was refused. The decision was then made to administer favipiravir, an experimental antiviral that had shown limited success in previous small human studies. In agreement with the company (Toyama Chemical of Japan), use of favipiravir in pregnant Ebola-positive patients was permitted under ‘Monitored Emergency Use of Unregistered and Experimental Interventions’ (MEURI), a concept developed by a WHO convened ethics panel in October 2014) . Four days after admission, the patient went into spontaneous labor and delivered a baby girl of 2800 g, Nubia (permission of the father to use the infant’s name). The patient deteriorated after delivery and died seven hours later of postpartum hemorrhage (PPH) and disseminated intravascular coagulation as a consequence of Ebola, despite receiving oxytocin and misoprostol as treatment for PPH. Nubia also tested positive for Ebola. For the infant, MSF obtained ZMapp outside of the clinical trial without difficulty; Nubia received the first dose the day after her birth. In all, she received four doses of ZMapp, GS5734 (an experimental broad-spectrum antiviral), and white blood cells (buffy coat) of an Ebola survivor; all medications were accessed under MEURI. Nubia recovered and survived .