Give Ebola Drug to Africans

Even though the article and the video (please note who is featured in it…. yes, Harriet Washington) are centered about the already over Ebola epidemic in West Africa, I think that they pertain to a very current issue in pharmacological experimentation: who gets to take an experimental drug first (I have been sincerely dying to discuss that, especially that specific case which I have monitored, because, you know, Ebola is my thing), so, in my defense, I purposefully searched for an article that addresses the issue, but this entry was what came first, so finding Washington in it was a chance event.

I think that both Washington and the author of the article make a great point in discussing how there is racial bias even in the distribution in novel drugs targeting African diseases. ZMapp, the antibody cocktail in question, was developed conjointly by the US and Canada. During the 2014 Ebola Epidemic, the drug was not yet tested in humans, and, from my recall, only 7 doses were available and were given to patients after they consented. The problem put forward in the article and the video is, thus, why 2 of these doses of a potentially life-saving drug were administered to American volunteers, and what contributed to this selection?

I think that the racial bias in medical care, part of which is drug administration, is what is extremely relevant to the major topic of our class, and, in this case, I identify the living laboratory as African patients. Given the distribution of diseased people (of a total of 15,261 laboratory-confirmed cases, a very small number were foreign volunteers*), ethnicity bias is evident.

I praise the article in that it identified the reason for this bias: the lack of information network in West Africa, so that Africans did not know of the existence of the drug. But this raises a crucial question: how do we erase the gap in accessibility and why do we give preferential access when it is known that knowledge is biased? Why is there such a propensity to perpetuate medical inequality? The problem here is that there is nothing wrong in allowing whomever person the opportunity to be cured, but that the injustice results from the selection as a product of bias. I believe that we are still very far from claiming that science is universal and impersonal, and that it cherishes justice.

Hence, I wonder, what are your thoughts on the role of the ”nationality” of the participating laboratories in determining how they translate their findings (one of the laboratories developing ZMapp was the U.S. Army Institute of Infectious Diseases)?


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