The Guardian recently posted an article explaining that individuals who have contracted Ebola in West African countries are not being provided access to experimental drugs available to American’s that have contracted the virus. Onyebuchi Chukwu, health minister in Nigeria announced at a press conference that he had put in a request to the American health authorities for the medicines that were successfully used to treat two American doctors for Ebola. The US response was that there was too little of the medicine available to be provided at this time and that it would take months to develop enough to be sent over. A spokesman for the US centers for disease control was quoted saying, “there are virtually no doses available.” Hmmmmm what does ‘virtually’ mean exactly? Beyond that, the drugs still may not be provided even within a few months as the they are not yet approved through the standard testing process and could be potentially dangerous.
The Big Question:
Does this have more to do with testing, or are US pharmaceutical companies primarily concerned with controlling the rights and recipe to their drugs. Over the last 10 years we have observed this happening with the AIDS epidemic. Just last year three generic manufactures and the pharmaceutical company Tibotec (owned by Johnson & Johnson) made an agreement to keep new AIDS medicines out of reach for those in the developing world. It seems to be a constant trend, if the money isn’t available large pharmaceutical companies will do what they have to in order to prevent cheaper forms of their drugs from entering into the market of the developing world. This is incredibly sad, as these are the people who need it most.
A number of medical ethicists have been debating the question of whether or not a drug should be administered in the case of Ebola that hasn’t been fully tested. In my opinion if a patient is obviously dying and no other alternative is available the only ethical choice is to administer the drug that has the best track record of treating the patient, in this case it would be the drug that seemingly cured the two US doctors.
At this point, it is hard to tell whether or not access to this drug is being prevented because of pharmaceutical control, but it is important that the public consider this ethical question not only in the case of Ebola, but also moving forward. Is it ethical for drug companies to withhold access to drugs to people in developing countries that are dying because they cannot afford the purchase? Taking this further one might ask what is the value of life? Has human life in some ways now become a commodity?
Ebola patients in west Africa to be denied experimental drugs used in US (The Guardian)
US pharma giants deny developing countries AIDS drug licenses (The Voice of Russia).