Ebola outbreak: Western drugs firms have not tried to find vaccine 'because virus only affects Africans', says UK's top public health doctor

Professor John Ashton accuses pharmaceutical industry of 'moral bankruptcy'

Political Editor

Britain's leading public health doctor today blames the failure to find a vaccine against the Ebola virus on the "moral bankruptcy" of the pharmaceutical industry to invest in a disease because it has so far only affected people in Africa – despite hundreds of deaths.

Professor John Ashton, the president of the UK Faculty of Public Health, says the West needs to treat the deadly virus as if it were taking hold in the wealthiest parts of London rather than just Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. Writing in The Independent on Sunday, Professor Ashton compares the international response to Ebola to that of Aids, which was killing people in Africa for years before treatments were developed once it had spread to the US and UK in the 1980s.

He writes: "In both cases [Aids and Ebola], it seems that the involvement of powerless minority groups has contributed to a tardiness of response and a failure to mobilise an adequately resourced international medical response.

"In the case of Aids, it took years for proper research funding to be put in place and it was only when so-called 'innocent' groups were involved (women and children, haemophiliac patients and straight men) that the media, politicians, scientific community and funding bodies stood up and took notice."

The Ebola outbreak has so far claimed the lives of at least 729 people across Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, according to the latest figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO), although the number is likely to be far higher.

Yesterday, a US relief organisation confirmed that two US aid workers who contracted the disease in Liberia had left the country. Dr Kent Brantly was being treated in a specialised hospital unit in Atlanta, Georgia, after becoming the first person with the disease to arrive on US soil yesterday evening. The second aid worker, Nancy Writebol, was due to land on a separate private flight.

On Friday, the WHO warned that the outbreak in West Africa was "moving faster than our efforts to control it". The organisation's director general, Dr Margaret Chan, warned that if the situation continued to deteriorate, the consequences would be "catastrophic" to human life. Professor Ashton believes that more money must be funnelled into research for treatment.

"We must respond to this emergency as if it was in Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster. We must also tackle the scandal of the unwillingness of the pharmaceutical industry to invest in research [on] treatments and vaccines, something they refuse to do because the numbers involved are, in their terms, so small and don't justify the investment. This is the moral bankruptcy of capitalism acting in the absence of a moral and social framework."

Western countries are on high alert after Patrick Sawyer, a civil servant for the Liberian government, died last week after arriving at Lagos airport – the first known case in Nigeria. International airline hubs are the focus of attention because of the high volume of passengers flying into and out of West Africa every day. Dubai's Emirates airline began a ban yesterday on its flights in Guinea over the crisis, with the suspension lasting until further notice.

Professor Ashton welcomed the decision by the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, to convene a meeting of the Government's crisis committee, Cobra, last week to discuss the UK's preparedness for cases of Ebola in this country.

Development of a vaccine is in the early stages in the US, but this is on a small scale and there is little hope of one being ready to treat the current outbreak in West Africa. Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institutes of Health, an agency of the US Department of Health and Human Services, has said it has plans possibly to begin testing an experimental Ebola vaccine on people in mid-September, following encouraging results in pre-clinical trials on monkeys. Earlier this month, the US Food and Drug Administration put a hold on a trial upon healthy volunteers by Tekmira Pharmaceuticals Corporation to ensure their potential Ebola treatment has no ill-effects, as it sought more information to ensure the safety of volunteers.

Professor Ashton said: "The real spotlight needs to be on the poverty and environmental squalor in which epidemics thrive and the failure of political leadership and public health systems to respond effectively. The international community has to be shamed into real commitment... if the root causes of diseases like Ebola are to be addressed."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teacher Required in Grays

£21000 - £40000 per annum + Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 tea...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee