news Thursday, January 29, 2015 - 05:30

The News Minute | August 8, 2014 | 2.38 pm IST

Over 1000 people have died since March 25 and with many countries especially in Africa affected, the World Health Organisation has called this the worst Ebola outbreak in history. The current outbreak of Ebola began in Guinea in March and has since spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. A Saudi Arabian man too has died of the virus, the first death outside of West Africa.

An untested drug called ZMapp by a San Fransisco based pharma company called ZMapp is touted to be the only possible treatment for the virus. The only two people who have been given access to the drug are two American missionaries who contracted the virus while in West Africa. In isolation in an Atlanta hospital, reports suggest the missionaries are faring well.

But the decision to give the drug to the missionaries has initiated a huge debate - should the missionaries or should Africans have been gives access to the drug first?

Arthur L. Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Department of Population Health writes that privileged humans were always going to be the first ones to try it.

He argues in his article that appeared on Washington Post that more than just about logistics. Caplan says that such drugs cost tens of thousands of dollars and it is obvious that that if the company were going to donate drugs, “it would be to people who would command a lot of press attention and, thus, investors and government money for further research—which is to say, not to poor Liberians, Nigerians or Guineans.”

He also says the evangelical Christian International Relief organization reached out to authorities for drugs. He summarises "The chance of a poor African getting an experimental drug is about the same as Donald Trump contracting Ebola.”

The Australian reported that the health minister of Nigeria told a news conference in his country that he had asked the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention about access to the drug. A CDC spokesman said “there are virtually no doses available.”

In another editorial in The Washington Post, Luara Seay, Assistant Professor, Department of Government Colby College asks,” Why hadn’t anyone reached out to try the serum on Ebola patients sooner, especially if its potential to heal is so promising? Is the world of global public health really so biased toward the privileged that Americans get help while everyone else suffers?”

As some Americans ask these pertinent questions, there is still no answer on whether ZMapp may be used for more tests on humans, in Africa.

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