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Bob Rigg 

The mass media are not asking possibly the most fundamental question about ebola–given that ebola has been known to the international health community since 1976 (featuring in about 34 outbreaks), why was a vaccine not developed long ago?

The current focus of public attention is on the unprecedented West African outbreak of Ebola. Of the five types of Ebola, the currently active Zaire Ebola virus is the most aggressive and lethal, with an extremely high mortality rate up to about 90%. But mass media are not asking possibly the most fundamental question about ebola–given that ebola has been known to the international health community since 1976 (featuring in about 34 outbreaks), why was a vaccine not developed long ago? The answer lies in the unwillingness of western pharmaceutical companies wedded to high profits to consider the undoubtedly costly investment in vaccines and treatments for infectious diseases that are rampant in the poorest countries of the world, mostly in Africa.

Now that ebola could possibly morph into a worldwide pandemic, the west is coming up with considerable resources, to contain the outbreak and to produce a vaccine. It has emerged that much of the funding for ebola research has aimed, not at protecting Africans and others from highly infectious tropical diseases, but at protecting western governments from the possible deliberate use of biological agents by non-state entities, or terrorists. Funding that is unavailable for public health purposes is suddenly miraculously available for national security. Since 11 September, western governments have been fiercely lobbied by pharmaceutical companies which, out of naked self-interest, have raised alarm in high places by hyper-inflating the threat to the west from biological agents in the hands of terrorist groups. This alarm, with its far-reaching economic and health consequences, has been concealed from the general public. For example, a UK company called Acambis persuaded governments of a serious risk that smallpox might be deliberately used by terrorists.

Acambis went one step further, convincing many governments that they had to prepare for mass vaccination if they wanted to protect their populations. Governments may have been hoodwinked into spending many hundreds of millions of dollars on a public health fiction devised by the public relations representatives of immensely profitable pharmaceutical companies. Although today’s terrorist organisations are much better funded and organised than their counterparts in the aftermath of 9/11, it can be contended that terrorist use of biological agents is unlikely in the present environment. Biological agents are very blunt instruments at best. Once released and dispersed, they cannot be confined to enemy populations, and can spread like wildfire. It is quite possible that they may eventually come back to bite the very organisations which released them, medically and politically. Moreover, since the war in Syria, we know that terrorist groups can now produce chemical weapons, which are strategically much more promising than biological agents. They can be targeted at specific areas and populations, and their capacity to generate fear and terror is undiminished.

The time has come for the BRICS governments, which collectively wield considerable economic power, to demonstrate their commitment to the developing world by establishing a well-endowed fund whose aim is, in consultation with WHO and relevant centres of expertise for infectious diseases, to stimulate research into and development of effective and inexpensive vaccines and treatments for infectious diseases afflicting the population of developing countries.

 

Last Updated on Friday, 26 September 2014 09:55
 

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