Profit-minded drug makers ignored Ebola epidemic: expert
Pharmaceutical companies make vaccines only when they profit from them; Ebola shows dangers of social inequalities: expert.

Money-minded pharmaceuticals companies didn't produce Ebola vaccines until profit was sure, an expert said on Tuesday.

Ebola has killed at least 4,877 people since the beginning of February this year, as poor countries like Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have been mostly hit with more than 1,012 cases being confirmed to date.

But because the deadly virus has killed people since 1979 in Africa – according to the World Health Organization– questions are raised as to why clinicians have no vaccines and no cure, despite years of research.

''A profit-driven industry does not invest in products for markets that cannot pay'' said Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization in a speech on October 13.

''The outbreak spotlights the dangers of the world’s growing social and economic inequalities,'' Chan said. ''The rich get the best care; the poor are left to die.''

Because vaccine development requires substantial investment for research and development, pharmaceutical companies only invest in a vaccine if they can gain revenue from the innovation, according to Annika Hedberg, senior policy analyst at the European Policy Center.

Hundreds of Ebola cases have been reported in poor African countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, with 318 Ebola cases in 1976, and 425 cases in Uganda in 200, according to WHO. West Africa could suffer 5,000 to 10,000 new cases of Ebola every week by the end of November, the WHO reported in October.

With the virus now posing a threat to the international community, decades after Ebola first broke out in 1979 in Africa, leading pharmaceutical industries have begun working together to produce millions of Ebola vaccine doses for next year.

On October 22, U.S. drug maker firm Johnson & Johnson announced in a press release that it would accelerate and expand the production of an Ebola vaccine program. ‘’Our goal to produce more than a million doses of vaccine in the next few months is within reach,” Paul Stoffels, Chairman of Johnson & Johnson said in the press release.

Mohga M Kamal-Yanni, senior health & HIV policy advisor at Oxfam, told the Anadolu Agency (AA) that pharmaceutical companies are accountable to their shareholders. ''[Pharmaceutical companies] provide services so they can produce high returns for shareholders,'' Kamal-Yanni said.

Allowing the market to decide what medicines and vaccines should be invested in – in the same way as other products such make-up and cars – raises ethical problems, Kamal-Yanni said.

''If I lived without a car, I could go by taxi, but I couldn’t survive without medicine; there is a huge difference,'' she said. ''Therefore it is unethical to allow the market to decide the choice of production for medicine and vaccine.''

There wouldn’t be a need for massive vaccination and Ebola cases would have been limited if a vaccine had been developed earlier, Kamal-Yanni says.

The decades-long delay in investing in an Ebola vaccine could cost the international community billions of dollars to battle the deadly virus. On October 24, European Union leaders pledged to spend more than €1 billion ($1.26 billion) to control the epidemic.

EU’s newly appointed Ebola coordinator Christos Stylianides said on October 27 that the international community had "underestimated" the danger and extent of the threat of Ebola, which threatens nations beyond Africa, and that the speed to fight it must be accelerated.

He said: ''The Ebola epidemic is putting the entire international community to the test."

AA
Last Modified: 2014-11-05 09:12:16
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