Thursday, July 31, 2014


I have been warning about Ebola and other viruses for years.  From the start of the current Ebola outbreak, read epidemic, in West Africa I have posted numerous times on the subject.  

This won't be a story about the brave few who are fighting this disease at the risk of their own lives and with few rewards.  I have nothing but respect for those doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers right now on the front lines.  

This is a story about something else entirely.

The American corporate media, the left, the right, the middle were largely silent about what has been happening in West Africa for months.  Every now and then you would see some little piece somewhere, but not to worry, Ebola was hidden away in "deepest, darkest Africa."

Then an American got sick and died and the media woke up.  Ebola became the number one news.  Could it come here the Western media wondered?  Could it sneak its way here on an air flight, even to the USA?  The evening news anchors were scared.  Right wingers began saying Ebola could slip across that pesky southern borders of ours.  The left, still largely unconcerned for whatever reason remained virtually silent.

Racism, capitalism, health, ebola even, they are all connected and don't you think for a minute that they are not.

Of course, we in the USA we are busy with low testosterone, erectile dysfunction, and be sure to ask your doctor about restless leg syndrome, and what about that new diet, what about some new sinus medicine.   The pharmaceutical industry, after all, didn't see any money to be made in a disease that killed 50% to 80% of those it infected...because they were Africans.  Big Pharmo is about Big Money and there just wan't any Big Money to be made in a bunch of dead Africans in some "out of the way" corner of the planet.

On the scene itself, some local entrepreneurs have found a way to make a little cash out of the dead and dying, out of Ebola. In Liberia, a survey conducted by the Inquirer there finds that:

...the prices of alcohol, soap, buckets, disinfectants such as chlorine, face mask latex glove among others have skyrocketed in recent time since it was announced that they play a greater role in combating the spread of Ebola.

Some unscrupulous business houses are also selling detergent soaps and other materials that are capable of combating the spread of the deadly Ebola virus are sold at higher prices sometimes twice the amount they were originally sold for prior to the outbreak of the Ebola virus.  (EDITORIAL NOTE: AS A FRIEND JUST COMMENTED TO ME AFTER READING THIS, " I know of no upscale across-the-counter soap/detergent that will stop the spread of Ebola better than others.  This is high octane Snake Oil. "  He is, of course, correct.)
From supermarket to another, prices of these commodities have been increased on ground that more people are buying them in a bid to stop the spread of Ebola.

Latex Gloves were seen being sold at every street corner of Monrovia for the third day running and a consumer noted that the price of gloves continue to increase by the days.

Who is behind this?  Local businessmen say don't blame us.  They claim it is the importers who are increasing the prices.

And what's this?  In the middle of the worst epidemic of this deadly disease in history when the President of Sierra Leone pays an unexpected visit to the Ebola Emergency Operations Center (EOC) at the WHO Country Office off King Harman Road, Freetown.  What does he find?  The place was closed with no sign that there is an emergency in the country right now to tackle the outbreak.  The EOC was formed as a response mechanism to fight the deadly Ebola outbreak and is co-Directed by the Minister of Health, Ms. Miata Kargbo and the WHO Representative for Sierra Leone, Dr. Jacob Mufunda and consists of leaders and partners involved in the fight against the deadly Ebola virus.  So, uh, closed.  All Africa writes:

It was expected that the operations centre was in full swing on a 24 hour basis. "We need quick response and decision making to speed up the process in redesigning our strategy to fight this deadly disease," President Koroma said, and urged WHO to ensure the EOC is fully operational.

President Koroma also assigned Ambassador Professor Monty Jones to monitor the operations of the EOC at all times to ensure it's up and running on a 24 hour basis. He vowed to be visiting the centre without notice.

Brings to mind the old "WHO's on first" thing. 

Anyway, I have bigger fish to fry then local capitalists and some closed up WHO emergency center.

Actually, I think I will sit back and let someone else fry those fish.

A week and a half ago Susan Sered ( a Professor of Sociology at Suffolk University in Boston who has published six books, including "Uninsured in America: Life and Death in the Land of Opportunity) writing at Salon scolded America for its shameful ignorance about the spread of Ebola.  She wrote at the time:

The United States, according to the CDC, has sent a seven-person team to help in Guinea, and provided protective clothing and equipment for healthcare workers in all three countries. In the grand scheme of things, that is a minimal amount of aid – echoed by the minimal coverage the outbreak has garnered in U.S. media. (Far more attention was afforded GOP Congressman Phil Gingrey’s outlandish and factually implausible comments about refugee children crossing the border bringing Ebola into the United States from Central America.)

There is more than one way to interpret America’s disinterest. One is racism — the sense that the people dying of Ebola are so different from “us” that we really can’t identify with them. Another is compassion fatigue. Isn’t there always some horrible disease afflicting Africa and Africans?

Indeed, many of the English-language articles that have been written about the Ebola outbreak focus on “ignorant” and “superstitious” Africans who give more credence to witchcraft than to modern medicine.

This analysis, picked up by several news outlets, simultaneously reveals the kind of xenophobic Western mindset that victims of the Ebola outbreak distrust, and hints at why Western readers do not seem all that interested in learning about or from the outbreak.

Well, until an American died that is.  Sered isn't done.  She goes on to talk about all those reports about many West Africans not trusting the out of town docs who have come to town, about thinking the healthcare workers are lying, maybe even spreading the disease.   She writes:

From my perch as a medical sociologist, the claim that mobs attacking treatment centers are panicking reveals “troubling truths“ regarding the Western track record of medical experiments and geopolitical ambitions in Africa. Distrust of Western medicine may have less to do with superstition than with history: forced sterilizations in Peru; the intentional infection of Guatemalans with gonorrhea and syphilis; marketing campaigns urging mothers in countries lacking safe water supplies to replace breastfeeding with infant formula so that women could work in western-owned factories; the sale in Africa of pharmaceuticals that passed their expiration date for sale in the West; the harvesting of organs in India for transplants to wealthy foreigners.

There is more...a lot more Ms. Sered has to say and she says it well,

In sub-Saharan Africa, outbreaks of new diseases such as Ebola (first identified in 1976) echo the spread of industrialization, urbanization, unprecedented militarization (funded by western countries), deforestation and the destruction of eco-systems that have forced communities to expand their search for food into territories that traditionally were not used for that purpose. In reports in the English-language press, however, there is little consideration of the political and economic structural forces that gave rise to the emergence and spread of Ebola. Rather, as Jared Jones writes, “African ‘Otherness’ overpowers the possibility of a non-cultural causality in the dominant discourse, and other factors are left unexamined as potentially causal or exacerbating.” Attention to sorcery rather than the inequalities of globalization obscures the fact that the biggest leaps in life expectancy in the U.S. and Europe came about because of massive government-funded public health measures — sewage systems and clean water supplies – not because we gave up our religious beliefs.

The articles I read in the English-language press decry the absence of functioning healthcare infrastructures in the African nations hit by the Ebola virus. But I am not convinced that the United States would do much better. There are a great many things that western medical institutions and personnel do extraordinarily well. We have sophisticated surgical technology and an advanced pharmacopeia of medicines to treat hundreds of diseases. But the bulk of our medical resources go towards curing rather than prevention. What we do dedicate to prevention tends to be limited to proximate factors such as germs and personal behaviors such as smoking that make individuals sick. We also divert resources into campaigns for procedures such as mammograms which detect but do not prevent disease. We pay less attention to poverty, inequality, environmental degradation and, yes, globalization, as root causes of sickness.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the United States has contributed so minimally to managing the Ebola outbreak. Effective public health endeavors need organized and sustainable systems for preventing the spread of disease. And, as I have argued before, the United States does not have a healthcare system. “System” denotes an overarching set of principles, practices, procedures and organizational structures, whereas our U.S. healthcare landscape is a decentralized and incoherent hodgepodge of financing and delivery mechanisms lacking rational methods for setting priorities.

Services and regulations, as well as thresholds for Medicaid eligibility, vary enormously from state to state. Municipal, county and state health departments rarely have mechanisms to keep track of patients who move to another jurisdiction. Hospitals around the country and even within one city or state use incompatible medical records. (Even the federal government’s Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense records are mutually inaccessible.) We have for-profit and not-for-profit hospitals. (And it’s often difficult to tell which is which.) Though many of us believe that emergency rooms serve as a safety net,federal law only requires emergency rooms to assess and stabilize patients (and they are allowed to charge a whole lot to do so), not to cure them. Walk-in clinics are proliferating in Wal-Mart and CVS branches. Hundreds of for-profit and not-for-profit insurance companies compete for “good” (that is, well-paying and relatively healthy) patients and customers. Behavioral and oral healthcare are almost never integrated with the rest of healthcare. And the Affordable Care Act — touting that “consumers” can “choose” the insurance plans that “best fit their needs” — is not designed to turn this chaos into any sort of longterm sustainable system.

We need to learn about public health emergencies around the world not only because they might become our emergencies, but also because those emergencies could be better contained and managed if we were to invest our expertise, our attention and our resources into community, national and international health preservation. For a fraction of the money that Western countries have poured into military campaigns in Africa, it would have been possible to support local governments in building functioning public health infrastructures. But let’s also not forget that despite spending more on healthcare per person than any other country in the world, here in the U.S. we are dead last among developed countries in health and life-expectancy, according to a recent study of 11 nations by the Commonwealth Fund. Ignoring the reality that the health of each of us is inexorably intertwined with the health of others is a collective disaster-in-the-making.

Global capital, racism, xenophobia, the legacy of imperialism are killing the people of West Africa today with the aid of the Ebola virus.

It ain't nothing new.

The following little ditty is from and that's the way it was...

If an Ebola vaccine were as profitable as erection pills, we’d already have one

The ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa is easily the deadliest outbreak in the disease’s known* history, having infected a suspected 1323 people and having killed 729 of them. Since it began in Guinea in February, this outbreak has caused Liberia to close its borders, caused Nigeria to begin screening passengers on incoming flights, caused Sierra Leone to declare a national state of emergency, and caused the Peace Corps to pull its volunteers out of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. The Centers for Disease Control issued its highest-level travel warning (level 3: “avoid nonessential travel”) for West Africa.
The good news, though unfortunately not for the people who are being infected right now, is that there’s movement on the path toward an Ebola vaccine. The NIH is supposed to begin a trial in September of something that has proven effective in non-human primate trials, and if it’s successful it could be distributed beginning in 2015, initially to health workers who are at the greatest risk of contracting the virus. There are a few other potential treatments/vaccines in the pipeline as well. But buried in that piece on the NIH trial is what really ought to be the final word on the for-profit healthcare industry:
The only positive development to come from the epidemic is that it’s attracted long-needed attention from drug makers, Fauci said.
“We have been working on our own Ebola vaccine, but we never could get any buy-in from the companies,” he said.
Fear is growing internationally as the Ebola virus spreads across Western Africa, and health officials are quarantining airline passengers with symptoms of the deadly disease.
For years, pharmaceutical companies have seen little potential for profit in Ebola, because outbreaks are unpredictable and typically small, Geisbert said.
“It’s not like cancer or heart disease, or even a prevalent infectious disease like malaria,” he said.
Here we have a virus that kills between 50% and 90% of everyone who comes down with it, and has to date no known treatment or cure, but because it breaks out irregularly and then only in mostly poor, rural Africa, our various pharmaceutical giants just didn’t see a need to do anything about it. It’s only after a thousand or so people in somewhat wealthier, urban Africa died, and folks in the West started to sweat a little that the virus might possibly make its way out of Africa altogether, that these companies finally deigned to pay attention to the problem. Because suddenly there’s a chance they might be able to make a buck off of the disease, where before it looked like some BS charity case.
Hooray, capitalism.
Sarah Kliff at Vox has more, in an interview with Ebola researcher Daniel Bausch, a professor at Tulane. Bausch notes that the other lever that’s actually freeing up some money for finding a treatment is that it’s now become a national security issue:
SK: So what stands between that science and getting these drugs to Ebola patients?
DB: Part of that is economics. These outbreaks affect the poorest communities on the planet. Although they do create incredible upheaval, they are relatively rare events. So if you look at the interest of pharmaceutical companies, there is not huge enthusiasm to take an Ebola drug through phase one, two, and three of a trial and make an Ebola vaccine that maybe a few tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of people will use.
There’s not a huge demand for this, but there could be other ways to move forward. There are concerns, for example, about Ebola being used as bioterrorism, and that drives a lot of the funding for this. The Department of Defense might be interested in a vaccine if they thought the disease could be used as a weapon.
We need to find the mechanism to get to the next step, and get them out there for actual use.
I wonder if whoever convinced the Pentagon that Ebola was a potential bioweapon did it just to see if that would shake loose some R&D money. I’d like to think so, because at least playing to America’s post-9/11 state of paranoia has the potential to raise some money. A bunch of dead folks in Africa sure didn’t do the trick.
Bausch goes on to say that the only place that’s been funding any research into Ebola treatments has been the NIH, which usually does the basic research on these things before handing them off to the private sector for testing and development. But in this case, the private sector looked at Ebola and thought, “hey, we can’t make any money off of that,” and so the NIH has had to shoulder the entire load.
Here’s the thing: we’ve got, what, 3 or 5 or more pills on the market to help men get erections? Imagine if the R&D money that went into just one of those had been put into finding an Ebola vaccine 5 or 10 years ago. I’m all for quality of life, but the only place where a boner could possibly be more important than somebody’s life is on the budget sheet of a for-profit drug company. I’m sorry, but that’s just perverse, and if it’s not an indictment of for-profit healthcare then it’s at least a very strong case for a much more robust public system than what we currently have.
*Apparently, some researchers think that the Plague of Athens in 430 BCE, which may have killed as many as 100,000 people and caused Athens to lose the Peloponnesian War, was an Ebola outbreak. Go figure.

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