Monday, August 25, 2014

The political economy of Ebola drugs and an inconvenient ethical question

Two US missionary health workers contract Ebola in West Africa. Days later, they are on a specially-designed CDC plane to the US. A Spanish catholic priest contracts Ebola in West Africa and is soon flown on an especially-equipped plane to the Spanish capital. Tragically for the cleric, this doesn't end well. A Briton catches Ebola in West Africa and is soon dispatched back to the United Kingdom. With the exception of the elderly Spanish priest, they are all recovering well. In fact, the first US missionary doctor to be flown in was discharged from hospital in the US a few days ago. As for the rest of the dying West African Ebola patients, to bad you hold the wrong passport. And then there are pharmaceutical-related questions to be asked here. Why are the US patients doing well even when there is no approved anti-Ebola drug on the market? We know of course that for 'Big Pharma, this Ebola thing is a no-brainer. It's simple business logic. Why spend millions of dollars developing a new anti-Ebola drug for a handful of African patients- who cant even pay for it anyway? And how often does Ebola strike? When was the last outbreak? Shareholders wont be rewarded. And ethical questions arise here. Why is it morally acceptable for people anywhere in the world die from Ebola when an experimental drugs as practically cured all Western patients it has been treated with? But the West Africans can do better for themselves surely. If Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea were to put up a $ 15 million to fast track the Ebola experimental drug with some goodwill support, couldn't that work? And why should African countries continue to expect the west to underwrite the health of its citizens? Credit goes to the Canadians for putting up some funding for the trial Ebola drug. The truth is that investing millions of dollars in research on drugs in treating poor mens' diseases is not going to happen anytime soon. There is need for a basket fund for developing drugs for neglected diseases. After all, we all in this together. A virus or bacteria dont need passports at airports and the world as it is today is intertwined.

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