Up to 30,000 people could have used experimental treatments or vaccines so far in the world’s worst outbreak of Ebola currently plaguing West Africa, British scientists said on Wednesday. The calculation highlights the dilemma facing officials considering how to distribute the tiny quantities of unproven drugs that are likely to be available in the near term to fight the deadly disease. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is hoping for improved supplies of experimental treatments and progress with a vaccine by the end of the year, after last week backing the use of untested drugs and vaccines.

Oliver Brady, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford, and colleagues have been crunching the numbers and believe the number of people needing such treatment or protection is very large, even under a conservative scenario. “This demand is likely to be higher than many people realise,” Brady wrote in a commentary in the science journal Nature. “Our analysis is crude and has very clear limitations. But it does demonstrate that for treatment and prevention interventions to be rolled out evenly and fairly, stocks must be scaled up substantially.”

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