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)?


The State of Alabama Last Night Tortured a Man While Slowly Snuffing Out His Life

I came across this article while I was, as usual, scrolling down my Facebook notifications page two days ago. I have to admit that the connection to the discussions during the course was not apparent until I finished the readings on racial disparities for our last class, and I found out that it resonates with two issues presented in the anthology Race and the Genetic Revolution. These are, namely, the problem of how, if an authoritative institution wants something to happen, it will happen despite any degree of objection, as well as the question of how do we challenge the judicial and legislative systems.

The refusal to change the inadequate midazolam anesthetic and the agonizing 34-minute death of Ronald Smith raise the question of the need to revisit the legislation about capital punishment and the perverse perception of humanity. I do understand that it is hard to sympathize with convicted criminals (in the case, of capital murder of a woman), and that I would personally not be unbiased as an attendant to the execution or court, but what makes a lower court forego decisions by an upper one and insist on, as cited, ‘’knowingly torturing’’ a person ‘’who was almost certainly awake’’, and  isn’t ensuring just treatment of everybody the main idea behind the justice system? I believe that the article reiterates how personal biases affect the way we address people and how predetermination in law is an unsinkable entity that brings upfront our own subjective desires, dismissing ethical treatment and ‘’human decency’’.

I wonder what a normal human being (here I mean a person with no legislative/judicial agency and am not putting forward any moral implications) can thus do to protect themselves despite having an army of attorneys and whether execution is a true measure of justice and not an eye -or-an-eye scenario.

Moreover, another class reading resonance question, is the subtle distinction between what is right and what is wrong and what is legal and illegal. Apparently, the system treats these two word pairs as synonymous, but then why wouldn’t it allow the convict to be executed by a bullet? I find it deeply disturbing that death ought to be ”protocolized” in legislative terms, as if a biological experiment is carried out and not the life of a human being, be it a murdered or innocent person, is being determined (I guess the idea of forgetting personality and animalizing the body through execution reverberates with everything we learned in class).

Hence, the article puts forward he question of what exactly human decency is and challenges the idea of using torturous capital punishment. I have been deeply disturbed by one allusion in this text, however: what are the moral implications of being given the opportunity to construct and sign one’s own death penalty, and why are still executions legal? Why is such a progressive and evolving  species like us humans still primitive in the application of ethics despite all circumstances? I wonder what your thoughts are.



No justicia para las mujeres

I found this article after one of my Peruvian friends on Facebook reacted angrily to a post that had a link to the text, and what struck me outright was the actual longevity of eugenic sterilization, which had survived and was indeed very active into the late 1990s. What I find disturbing is the denial that this campaign ever occurred, as well as the laughable excuse that these coerced operations were the deeds of individual physicians who did not abide by protocols, so the operations were ‘’isolated cases’’. I can’t help but ask myself how can more than 300 000 people be sterilized over the course of 4 years, if no nationwide incentive was present, and how can only 5 physicians be held responsible for such an enormous number of surgeries over the course of 4 years: did a single surgeon perform 15 000 sterilizations a year?

I have always been interested in the intersectional treatment of people and how mysteriously the role of the government is never called into question. Given president Alberto Fujimori’s turbulent past, his coming into power (which included an auto-coup and assumption of complete judicial and legislative powers) and his 25-year sentence due to human rights violation, how can charges against him be dropped without a further investigation and the claims of so many be dismissed?

As I read several other articles connected to the topic, I came across Fujimori’s statement upon prosecution that he ‘’deserved credit from saving Peru from anarchy’’1, but was he not encouraging therapeutic nihilism by ruining the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, and prompting them to reject the advances of Western medicine?

There are a lot of questions that arise, and I believe they all connect to the idea that the possession of power grants isolation from law, and that sadly there is no safe place in the world for impoverished indigenous people, as their segregation from political life and their denied social voice are cunning repressions by institutions. Another very striking connection is the fact that the people coerced into sterilization were threatened by the payment of taxes for having very large families, so it appears that they were held responsible for being poor and not being able to provide for their children. This links to our unit on eugenics because it reiterates the idea that it is not the socially induced conditions that lead to fertility and failure to provide for children, but the impoverished people’s fault for being unjustly treated in the first place.

A question which arises is why was sterilization sought after, and the answer I have so far been able to identify, is that a growth in a highly impoverished part of the population is unwanted. This is probably because the sterilized ‘’already got an army’’, raising concerns of race suicide. Furthermore, the refusal to hold government officials responsible might be due to the fact that, should the case be settled in favor of the Peruvian women, huge reparations will be needed, so in the end of the day, the in the hugely ethical world today everything is far more economic than humane.

And yet, why are we so silent about the past and its haunting ghost today? Is it because of our apparent conviction that death only happens to others? I feel that the lack of an institutional voice to represent the struggles of the oppressed is very relevant to the current political situation worldwide, and that an even larger outcry is needed in order to raise awareness. But as it appears for this case, Peruvian women are not likely to receive the justice they deserve, as it is supposed to close by the end of the year, and up to now there are no updates on court decisions.


A New Olympic Sport: City Cleansing

A New Olympic Sport: City Cleansing

I encountered this article while I was researching the performance of the Bulgarian athletes during the Rio Olympic games this summer and what I found amusing is the confrontation with reality of the splendor and glory of short-lived major sports events and the prolonged process of preparation for hosting them and the way communities are transformed or completely erased while doing so. The sense of exclusion and community cleansing that it presented resonated with me and our discussions on unit two.

I could not help but feel a little exasperated because of the marginalization which occurs every time an economic incentive to ‘’cleanse’’ a district is underway, as I find the idea to not ruin the image of a site in the public eye while covering up but not solving its problems contemptible. It is logical to acknowledge that major sports events are a source of financial influx and they stabilize the economy, and that no tourist would like to feel unsafe and uncomfortable while enjoying themselves, but at the same time, Brazil is one of the countries with the highest GINI indices (an economic index that determines the income inequality in a nation, where a value above 50 is considered high) according to the World Bank, with a 51% index rate in 2014. This speaks of how unevenly wealth is spread and alludes to the idea that Brazil is an economically segregated nation. Therefore, these cleansing policies certainly deepen the income gap between lower and upper-class men, so that we end in a well-known living laboratory situation: thousands of people are dislocated from the place they live (sometimes 80 km away!), to make room for privileged visitors from all over the world to gape at the events for 19 days. The newly erected buildings are seldom used after the event in question is over. Hence we can identify a new aspect of a living laboratory, and that is the displacement from home and the psychological implications it has for the mental well-being of the homeless citizens and the people living in favelas, as they lose a part of their identity and the security of being accustomed to one’s surroundings, a sense built through devoting years to one’s home. We should also note that the displaced people do not have the financial assets to oppose the banishment from their homes, as lawyers are expensive.

Then should we really allow for the building of grand constructions to accommodate events generating enormous turnover for the economy, when the people who need this extra income benefit the least? How important is the partial loss of one’s identity as a determinant of a living lab and should we generate living labs when trying to appeal to foreign countries and their cultures, while trimming the uniqueness of our own? And lastly, how important a factor is money in government decision-making when the happy lives of people who constitute a significant portion of the electorate are at stake?

The Belgian Congo: The Living Laboratory Of 20th Century Africa And The Origins Of AIDS

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I watched this video 2 or so years ago (I love viruses) and thought that it really connects to our recent unit and the idea of vaccination against disease without consent and the medical experimentation on a readily available – unprivileged – population.

In short, the documentary links the production and research of the second wave poliomyelitis vaccine (after a lot of the original Salk vaccine was found to be faulty)  in the 1950s, and the competition between two doctors to create a new effective vaccine, one of whom is the man considered the pioneer of the fight against polio, Dr Hilary Koprowski, who allegedly tested and developed the vaccine in monkey tissue cells and potentially used chimpanzee kidney cells. The ostensible use of the latter, as argued by the movie, is linked to the emergence of AIDS and the isolation of the first ever seropositive HIV sample, coming from Leopoldville (contemporary Kinshasa). I believe that the connection to the living laboratories issues that the movie points out is the following: the Oral Polio Vaccine developed by Koprowski was delivered to 1 million citizens of the Belgian Congo, as it had to be tested before delivery into the US. This was problematic as 90 million Americans have already been vaccinated with the original Salk vaccine, so a ‘’fresh’’ population was needed. Eventually, the Belgian Congo government forced its citizens to undergo polio vaccination, as refusal to do so was illegal. Soon after the end of the campaign, the first cases of HIV-infected patients emerged, so that after the Rolling Stone published an article claiming Koprowski’s involvement into the emergence of HIV but later apologized to Koprowski due to a certain mistake that disproved their argument – the correct species infected by SIV.As some answers were missing,  journalist Edward Hooper started researching the link between the polio vaccination campaign and the potential use of chimpanzee cells for growing the vaccine (chimpanzees are infected by HIV-1 cousin virus, SIV, standing for simian immunodeficiency virus, so that it could have mutated into HIV, as human and chimpanzee genomes are 98-99% identical, creating potential zoonosis; SIV does not infect green macaque monkeys who are routinely used as sources of cells, hence the error of the Rolling Stone) and the first seropositive HIV samples. He found witnesses in the Camp Lindi Laboratory in Stanleyville  (where the vaccine was developed) whose testimonies were in favor of the fact that chimpanzee tissues were harvested for growing the vaccine.

I find the connection to our class in the way people were subjected to a subtle kind of experimentation: being vaccinated with lots that might have been contaminated with potentially deadly germs without checking for any issues of liability, namely contaminating people with a disease which ended up infecting more than 70 million people worldwide, of whom 35 million died by the end of 2015. In a way, this documentary is a continuation to our class experience from the times of Medical Apartheid, with translating results from the immunization in Africa to the subsequent immunization in the United States, and with our current unit, as the sanctuary of the body was forever ‘’branded’’ with disease, and what is worse is that this is ‘’a disease of  young people’’, as pathologist Dr Cecil Fox points out in the movie. This would mean that there is an ongoing legacy of scientific racism, as HIV is prenatally and sexually transmitted.

I think that we should pose the question whether the rush to find a novel vaccine to cure a terrific disease like polio (which in the 1950s killed and paralyzed 500, 000 people annually) should be justifiable as it might have caused the health crisis of the 21st century and left the continent of Africa devastated, and what is the ‘’lesser evil’’ when it comes to medicine: is it instantaneous dwindling of mortality rates of poliomyelitis (which today is almost eradicated), or is it the ongoing agency of infecting, killing and economically demolishing, and socially stigmatizing whole continents with AIDS?

“To be white is to be racist, period.”

I stumbled upon this article, which appears to be causing a huge public outcry, while I was scrolling down my news feed page on Facebook. Naturally, being a person who identifies as white and who hails from Bulgaria, a country where the population is almost 100% white has no experience with racism whatsoever, I opened it just to regret doing so.

What struck me is the perpetual generalization that seems to be an inseparable part of racial disputes, a trend we see in all our readings for class. While it is true that genocide and the categorization of humankind is predominantly linked to the white race and this is a shame that should be exposed and continually reminded of, I do not believe in the notion that having fair skin makes me racist and that, more or less, white people today are monsters. I would therefore say that trying to extrapolate historical themes into the matters of a century in which people are transgressing racial and ethnic boundaries in order to help and be helped is a legacy of racism and a sure way to downgrade once again to it and all of its linked misconceptions.  Maybe what might have been meant was that being white means being considered racist, but not necessarily meaning that a white person is racist at heart.

I guess that the concept of implicit bias that the article mentions could be read the other way round with respect to that statement. Namely, we do not inherently think of diversity in a racist frame, but ourselves trigger conflict in our efforts to appease it without paying attention to the versatility our audience has. We are living in an era where we paradoxically create laboratories of our own – schools and law enforcement – by mispresenting or not giving the whole piece of information we intend to and by excluding diversity by leaving room for conflict through subtle opinions presented as legitimacy. This way “impressionable youths’’ are agitated and the gap between races and ethnicities starts to expand at a mind-blowing rate, so that mankind gets stuck in quicksand – we erase our own social accomplishments by trying to secure and promote them through a well-learned but not updated mindset, which I believe is the living laboratory of today: a school system which invests its resources into a bright future but in this deed does not account for the consent of students unconsciously being influenced by authoritative opinions for life, nor for the impact it has on its defendants and the way they and others think of them.