Race Baiting No Cure For Ebola
Seeing health care workers from the U.S. and other countries rush to care for Africans stricken with Ebola is proof of remarkable progress toward achieving color blind medicine.
It’s a spectacle of heroic humanitarianism.
But this week, powerful voices leveled false charges of racism.
Here are the facts. There is no cure for Ebola. There are several drugs in development that haven’t been tested on humans. One is ZMapp, made by a San Diego company. A team from Doctors Without Borders got ZMapp samples from the company and considered using them on Dr. Sheik Umar Khan, Sierra Leone’s renowned virologist stricken while treating patients. But the team decided ZMapp might do more harm than good, perhaps a flawed decision. Khan died on July 29, and the unused doses were then sent to Liberia, where they ended up being given to two American healthcare workers.
The Americans, Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, appear to have benefited.
In a front page story on Wednesday, the New York Times claimed that giving ZMapp “to foreign aid workers has raised broad ethical questions about the disparities in treatment between white outsiders and the Africans who form the overwhelming majority of victims in the epidemic.”
That’s racial demagoguery. Had doctors first used this untested drug on an African and he had died, some would have charged racism. That may have deterred Dr. Khan’s team from trying the drug.
The manufacturer’s entire supply of ZMapp amounted to ten doses, hardly enough for a region of 250 million people. Rationing almost always gives preference to healthcare workers. After Brantly and Writebol were treated, another dose went to a Spanish missionary who failed to respond and died. Then the president of Liberia personally called President Obama on August 8 requesting the manufacturer’s remaining samples be sent to treat two stricken Liberian doctors.
When that was done last Monday – that was the end of the supply.
But there’s no end to the blame game.
On a Tuesday teleconference with journalists, WHO Assistant Director General Marie-Paule Kieny labelled the absence of a cure for Ebola an “historic wrong” and a “market failure,” as if the capitalist West is to blame for the suffering.
Nonsense. Limited scientific knowledge is the reason there is no cure yet. Local corruption is a major reason Ebola is spreading. Even President Obama, whose recent summit hailed “Africa Rising” complained about the corruption there. Payoffs, kickbacks, and outright theft make commerce impossible, and the resulting poverty allows disease to spread. Only about one in five Liberian residents has indoor plumbing.
Corruption also means that at the bus station in Accra, Ghana yellow fever cards are openly for sale, certifying that people are Ebola- free and eligible to enter the country.
Free market enterprise is the only hope for an Ebola cure. Socialist countries haven’t announced any Ebola drugs in the pipeline. But a Canadian company donated 1,000 doses of its experimental Ebola vaccine to Liberia on Wednesday. Another Canadian company, Tekmira, and an American firm, BioCyst Pharmaceuticals, are developing antiviral drugs.
Of course, drug companies concentrate on products with lucrative markets, but 20 percent of the products in the pipeline now are intended for poor countries – the highest ever – according to the Netherlands based Access to Medicines Foundation.
When Ms. Kieny of WHO was asked by a journalist which companies are producing Ebola drugs, she snapped back with contempt, “I am not here to make any commercials for any companies.”
But that’s exactly the information West Africans need.
Medicines are always limited by the state of scientific knowledge. Insufficient knowledge about the immune system has delayed vaccines for AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, or dengue fever. But there is also no cure for multiple sclerosis, which disproportionately sickens people of northern European descent, not Africans. The U.S. is plagued by an incurable hospital infection called CRE (Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae) that the CDC dubs “nightmare bacteria.” CRE bloodstream infections have a 50 percent mortality rate, almost as bad as Ebola.
Race baiting doesn’t help combat Ebola or any other deadly disease.
Worse, it diminishes the heroism of healthcare workers battling to save sick Africans.