So Ebola is the obsession of the month, and understandably so. As a point of interest (probably only for me) it is one of the diseases I am most obsessed with and scared of (along with rabies), probably due to the large amounts of pain and the no known cure thing.
Anyway, I’ve heard about enough of the discussions about whether or not the US should have brought the two missionaries to Atlanta for treatment. There are many arguments to that on both sides; frankly, I’m not entirely sure where I stand but I see sense on both sides.
My problem is with the discussion of the “cure”. It has become a huge racial issue now about how two white Americans are being given a cure that didn’t exist until Americans became sick and how it’s just another display of the prejudice within the pharmaceutical industries and the US.
I’m not saying that there isn’t some logic there. A drug company makes its money by selling drugs, not by giving them away. If you had a product and a choice of whether to sell it or give it away, in most cases you’d sell it. The people running drug companies don’t pretend to be saints; it is a business like any other. We are not asking medical supply companies why they are providing US hospitals with top-notch medical supplies and not West Africa.
The point I want to make surrounds this so-called cure. Let’s look at it from another angle. Let’s say this company had a potential treatment. It’s not FDA approved and it hasn’t been tested on humans or been through any significant clinical trials. Then the company suggests using the drug on the outbreak in West Africa. There would be outrage at this too. It would be seen as a company exploiting the sickness of the poor so as to test their drug without following proper regulations. We have had scandals like this in the past (and potentially the present) with various pharma companies testing drugs in third world countries with no real oversight and proper clinical trials. That is an abuse of their power.
The reactions to the production of this treatment are outstanding. No one seems to be stopping to think about the implications of the pharmaceutical company in the US providing an untested, unapproved drug to a third world nation. It would be a political disaster on a number of levels. What if it didn’t help? What if it killed patients faster? This would only further add to the distrust that many have of Western medicine and reduce the numbers of people seeking treatment causing a potential increase in the severity of this epidemic and others like it.
I understand that it is easy to be outraged by everything and that everyone is potentially prejudiced against someone, but before we get on our high horses about the racism and horrible behavior of the US with regards to this treatment let’s take a moment to think about the other options. The drug company is stuck in a very difficult situation, having a drug that could treat an epidemic but not having been through most of the trials required for approval. Before a drug is released it should have been through multiple clinical trials on humans to test for efficacy and side effects. Usually a drug is tested in blind studies where some patients received the drug and some receive a placebo. Could you imagine doing this in a country with an outbreak?
This drug could potentially save lives, and it is better to save one life than none. No life is worth more than another. I agree with that, but in this case the reasoning behind who got the drug actually makes some sense. Our reaction to the use of this drug could scare drug companies from even suggesting this type of action in future situations meaning that we lose the chance at even saving one life in certain instances.