Do drugs firms see Ebola as issue for 'poor people in poor countries'?

Do drugs firms see Ebola as issue for 'poor people in poor countries'?
By Chris Harris
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Pharmaceutical firms view Ebola as unprofitable and an issue for “poor people in poor countries”, it’s been claimed.

Sridhar Venkatapuram, a health justice expert, called the position a “current moral problem” that some describe as “unjustifiable”.

No vaccine has been approved for Ebola, but the US – amid fears the virus could be used in bioterrorism – has funded research into a post-infection treatment. They include TKM-Ebola, a drug that is being developed by Canadian firm Tekmira under contract with the US Department of Defense.

Dr Venkatapuram, a lecturer at King’s College London, told euronews: “We have pharmaceutical companies spending millions on drugs that make minor improvements to people in rich countries, because there’s a market.

“But they do not see it as profitable in issues for poor people in poor countries.

“Ebola has been developing over three or four decades and is typical of a much larger problem – neglected diseases. That’s when the number of people that are infected are small and they live in poor countries where they can’t afford the vaccines.”

David Heymann, chairman of the UK's Health Protection Agency, said there was “a need not a market” for an Ebola vaccine in west Africa.

He added: “The issue is who will pay for vaccines for use in developing countries where outbreaks occur.

“Unless there is a market for the vaccine, it’s probably not going to be of interest to commercial pharmaceutical companies. It would not be a vaccine that’s used routinely – only at the time of an outbreak and possibly limited to health workers, other responders and contacts, though wider-ring vaccination around outbreak sites could be considered.

“There’s not a market for these type of drugs in Europe and North America. In Africa there’s a need, not a market.”

Euronews asked PhRMA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, to comment on the issue, but it has not yet responded.


Dr Venkatapuram also said Ebola patients shouldn’t be in isolation – unless they were in the latter stages – because it stopped people coming forward with the virus and did not help educate communities about prevention.

It comes after a quarantine centre in Liberia was attacked and looted, leading to 20 people – potentially with the virus – escaping.

He added a vaccine would not be necessary if there was good health infrastruture – including infection control, community education and money spent on research – in place initially.

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