I ran across a Boing Boing post where they point out that two American missionaries who contracted Ebola appear to have saved by an experimental treatment. CNN describes the situation:
Its a story that could have come from a cinematic medical thriller: Two American missionary workers contract Ebola. Their situation is dire. Three vials containing a highly experimental drug are flown into Liberia in a last-ditch effort to save them. And the drug flown in last week appears to have worked, according to a source familiar with details of the treatment.Dr. Kent Brantlys and Nancy Writebols conditions significantly improved after receiving the medication, sources say. Brantly was able to walk into Emory University Hospital in Atlanta after being evacuated to the United States last week, and Writebol is expected to arrive in Atlanta on Tuesday.
1. Starting in March 2014, Ebola started to be seen in West Africa. More than 1600 Africans have shown up sick with more than half of those infected dying. None of these people got a last-minute salvation.
2. Everyone in the world has to be terrified of Ebola. It is one of the most scary diseases I’ve ever heard about. The notion that a pharmaceutical company in San Diego had a treatment that seems to have worked that was never shared with dying African people is offensive.
3. I can only imagine what this looks like to people in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.
4. The cure had to be pried out of the hands of a for-profit pharmaceutical corporation. Turns out the months of Africans dying wasn’t sufficient incentive to release the treatment. So how did these two white American missionaries find out about this miracle treatment? CNN explains that the missionary charity (Samaritans Purse) made the connection:
As the Americans conditions worsened, Samaritans Purse reached out to a National Institutes of Health scientist who was on the ground in West Africa, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.”The scientist was able to informally answer some questions and referred them to appropriate company contacts to pursue their interest in obtaining the experimental product,” NIAID said.The experimental drug, known as ZMapp, was developed by the biotech firm Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., which is based in San Diego. The patients were told that the treatment had never been tried before in a human being but had shown promise in small experiments with monkeys.
5. You might call these Americans vampires. Back from the dead saved by the magical blood of the sacrifices of those who came before them:
The medicine is a three-mouse monoclonal antibody, meaning that mice were exposed to fragments of the Ebola virus and then the antibodies generated within the mices blood were harvested to create the medicine. It works by preventing the virus from entering and infecting new cells.
The rush of resources and last-minute miracle part of this narrative is worth talking more about. But also the sacrifices of the mice, monkeys and the dead Africans have to be considered when thinking about these two saved missionaries.
I think this makes visible the hierarchy of human bodies — the idea that some people count more than others.
Worth noting that the Wall Street Journal reports that one of the Americans was also given a blood transfusion from an African Ebola survivor.
Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol began receiving supportive care as soon as they were diagnosed, according to their respective charities. Dr. Brantly also got a blood transfusion from a 14-year-old boy who survived Ebola under Dr. Brantlys care, in the hope that antibodies would help him, too, fight off the virus. Both Dr. Brantly and Ms. Writebol received an experimental serum, the charities said, though they didnt specify what the treatment was.
6. Some people might ask: ‘don’t you think it’s worth it? Having a potential cure for Ebola is more important than any of these complaints about how the drug got made or released?‘
I would respond that the harm is done. Any attempt to justify this kind of hierarchical violence is probably worth noting in itself as evidence of a pernicious desire in the questioner to defend the pharmaceutical company.
Of course I wish for a cure for Ebola and am glad that a treatment seems to be in the works. I hope for an immediate and full distribution of this new treatment to everyone who has Ebola.
I haven’t seen any leader or press report advocating that the drug should be shared with other dying people.
It is always worth thinking about how we do things. Few would deny that injustices are done in the name of best intentions. And we should examine how CNN and the Wall Street Journal write about a phenomenon.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the death rate of those who get Ebola is one reason why researching a cure isn’t a priority:
There are several vaccines and drug treatments in development and testing for Ebola, but none have been approved by regulators. Commercializing them is a challenge given that Ebola is a rare disease, said Thomas Geisbert, who works on potential Ebola vaccine platforms as a researcher at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.”Ebola is very rare—there is not a financial incentive for large pharmaceutical companies to make vaccines for Ebola,” he said. “Its really going to require government agencies or a foundation.”
7. I’m glad that someone helped to save these two people’s lives. Here is hoping that same impulse counts for everyone else in the world.