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West African leaders meet to discuss Ebola epidemic

ACCRA, Ghana -- Emergency talks on containing the worst Ebola outbreak in history were due to wrap up on Thursday, with ministers hoping to halt the virus' deadly rampage in West Africa after a jump in the number of deaths.

The highly contagious tropical bug has infected hundreds of people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, with the latest World Health Organization (WHO) figures showing that confirmed or suspected cases had left 467 people dead and experts fearing it could spread throughout the region.

Health ministers from 11 nations were due to finalize two days of talks in Accra with global experts in communicable diseases, with debate raging over the measures required to stop Ebola in its tracks.

Jeremy Farrar, a professor of tropical medicine and director of The Wellcome Trust charity, caused controversy as the talks opened as he was widely quoted in global media calling on health authorities to offer experimental medicines, not yet fully tested, to patients.

“Tragic as these deaths and suffering are, humans are not Guinea pigs,” virologist Ian Mackay, associate professor at the University of Queensland, told AFP, rejecting the suggestion.

“It's a very difficult situation made worse by the urgency of it.”

Several biotech companies and U.S. universities are developing potential vaccines for Ebola, at various stages of testing, but none anywhere in the world is close to being licensed for distribution to the public.

“The question is: would these drugs be allowed to be used on UK citizens?” Mackay said.

“If the outbreak occurred there, or in the U.S., or Australia, would this be ethically acceptable in these countries?”

'Out of control'

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