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From The Socialist newspaper, 23 May 2018

New Ebola threat: UN and drug companies drag their feet

Ebola scientists testing samples, photo US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Ebola scientists testing samples, photo US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention   (Click to enlarge)

Jon Dale, secretary, Unite EM/NG32 Notts NHS branch (personal capacity)

A new outbreak of Ebola has begun in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In 2014-16 some 28,000 people were infected in West Africa. 11,600 of them died. Have governments and corporations learnt lessons from their shameful negligence last time?

This new outbreak is still small and could be halted. From 4 April to 17 May 2018, 45 cases and 25 deaths were reported. Most were in the remote Bikoro region, but cases have now occurred in Mbandaka, a city of 1.2 million, 150 kilometres away. This dispersal is "a game-changer" according to the World Health Organisation's Deputy Director-General.

If it takes hold in cities it will be grim. Mbandaka is a major river transport hub. Kinshasa (population 11 million) could then be at risk. Neighbouring countries would be affected and cases would appear in Europe, America and elsewhere.

Crowded housing, lack of sanitation, poor public health education and inadequate medical services help spread the virus.

Infrared thermometers are being used at Mbandaka docks to identify travellers with a fever. "But we don't have enough of the thermometers, so people are crowding up and getting annoyed," said one official.

Response fund

After the 2014 outbreak the United Nations set up an Ebola Response Fund, which they calculated needed $988 million. By October 2017 it had received just $166 million.

The World Health Organisation has appealed for $26 million to fight this new outbreak. In just 45 minutes USA, British and French air forces fired $50 million worth of weapons over Syria in April!

Towards the end of the West African outbreak a vaccine was developed and trialled. Results were encouraging although it has still not yet completed full testing. Merck and Johnson and Johnson, two US giant pharmaceutical companies, have been developing vaccines. But urgency shown during the West African outbreak subsided afterwards.

Early research on vaccines is often conducted in government-funded laboratories. But a major pharmaceutical company is usually needed to fund expensive trials. If there is little or no prospect of profits these companies are not interested. Poor people in Africa are not considered a worthwhile investment.

8,000 doses of Merck's unlicensed vaccine have now been sent to DRC. However, it needs to be stored around -80°C and electricity supplies are unreliable.

It is too early to predict the outcome of this latest Ebola outbreak. What is clear is that big business and politicians who serve it cannot protect the health of the world's population.

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In The Socialist 23 May 2018:


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