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From: The Socialist issue 824, 10 September 2014: Scotland in revolt against austerity

Search site for keywords: Health - Nigeria - capitalist system - Capitalist - Drugs - Africa - Guinea - World Bank - Pharmaceutical

Ebola virus: Victims of a failed capitalist system

Health workers in Liberia have been on strike demanding better protection from Ebola virus and improved pay

Health workers in Liberia have been on strike demanding better protection from Ebola virus and improved pay   (Click to enlarge)

Jon Dale

Infectious bodies rotting in the streets... health care facilities overwhelmed... health workers dying in shocking numbers.

These horrific scenes are spreading across West Africa. Ebola virus has brought terror to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and threatens Nigeria, Senegal and beyond.

Since Ebola virus was discovered in Congo in 1976 there have been seven outbreaks in East Africa. Two of these were in 2012, giving warning that a major outbreak could soon occur. Yet all governments were ill-prepared when this outbreak began.

The death toll has passed 2,000 - more than all previous outbreaks combined. 42% of deaths have occurred in the past month. This epidemic is out of control.

Yet Ebola is a tiny killer compared to malaria and tuberculosis, which both kill several million each year. But there is no preventative vaccine or cure and it is highly infectious.

Breaking point

Crisis measures are urgently needed. But the governments of all the affected countries are completely incapable of carrying these out.

Health services are at breaking point. Kailahun in Sierra Leone has just four ambulances for almost half a million people. Heroic nurses, doctors, gravediggers and other frontline workers lack enough personal protective equipment to prevent them becoming infected - and infectious - themselves. Nurses in Liberia have been on strike demanding protective clothing and higher pay.

The World Health Organisation estimates $600 million (366 million) could stop the epidemic. This is just 0.034% of annual world military expenditure (2013 figures). When governments talk of 'defence' spending, who and what are they defending?

Pharmaceutical companies make massive profits. They have not developed preventative vaccines or treatments for Ebola - a rare illness needing treatment for just a few days, hitting people too poor to buy drugs.

Of more than 1,500 new drugs that came to market between 1975 and 2004, just ten were targeted at tropical infections that killed millions each year.

Shareholders' profits mean selling drugs for long-term conditions to patients paying high prices, either directly or through tax-funded health care, like the NHS.

Potential Ebola treatments are now being belatedly developed. Rushing untested drugs through that were subsequently found to have serious side-effects could increase distrust of medicines already associated with neo-colonial exploitation and corruption.

Immediately needed is massive investment into health care - training and equipment to 'barrier nurse' patients and prevent them becoming dehydrated. Clean water is vital for hygiene and infection control.

A public health programme, including health education, is needed - not imposed by corrupt central governments or Western imperialism.

Viruses don't stop at national borders. A coordinated international response can only be achieved on the basis of democratic socialist states cooperating together, in Africa and across the world.

Exploitation and domination

Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone were all wracked by civil wars in the past 25 years. They are among the poorest in the world, despite being rich in natural resources. Centuries of imperialist exploitation have sucked huge wealth out of mines and plantations.

They spend more on interest charges to the World Bank and International Monetary Fund than on healthcare, education and infrastructure. 'Aid' comes with strings, demanding privatisation of health and other public services.

Nationalise 'big pharma'

What little research into Ebola treatment that has been carried out has been funded by the US Department of Defence, concerned at the threat of bioterrorist attacks. In 2013 the Centre for Biosecurity of the University of Pittsburgh reported that monoclonal antibodies showed potential to treat infections such as Ebola.

Sales of these treatments could reach $62.7 billion in 2015. 75% are for cancer or conditions like rheumatoid arthritis requiring long-term treatment. The only one developed for an infectious disease is for premature babies, who need six months treatment.

In 2012, these drugs cost up to $25,000 per patient a year. Changing manufacture methods could potentially cut costs by nine tenths. But "this is not currently a priority for commercial industry," reports the Centre for Biosecurity.

The whole industry must be publicly owned and democratically planned for need - not profit.

Nigeria: Neoliberalism has undermined healthcare

Protesting agianst IMF-imposed neoliberalism

Protesting agianst IMF-imposed neoliberalism   (Click to enlarge)

Peluola Adewale, Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI, Nigeria)

The World Bank President Jim Yong Kim wrote in the Washington Post: "If the Ebola epidemic devastating the countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone had instead struck Washington, New York or Boston, there is no doubt that the health systems in place could contain and then eliminate the disease." Spot on!

However, what he doesn't say is that this reality is a reflection of the crisis of capitalism, especially in neocolonial countries. These countries along with Nigeria, which also has cases of Ebola virus, are rich in natural resources. But the domination of these economies by imperialists and multinationals, as well as the implementation of the World Bank promoted neoliberal capitalist model that discourages public spending, has made it impossible for them to build strong health system against infectious disease like Ebola, let alone provide safe water and sanitation.

For instance Nigeria, Africa's biggest economy with a population of 170 million, has just four laboratories that are capable of testing for Ebola virus. But even these laboratories are reportedly only funded with grants from foreign charity organisations.

Besides, in the run-up to 2015, the target year of the Millennium Development goals, hundreds of Nigerians are still dying annually from preventable diseases such as cholera - a water-borne disease.

According to the government statistics, there were 22,347 cases of cholera between January and June out of which 288 people have died in Nigeria. These cholera outbreaks, which have been underreported in the media, reveal much more the monumental failure of the anti-poor, capitalist government than Ebola virus disease which has so far accounted for eight deaths in Nigeria.

Massive public spending on healthcare under a democratic control of workers is vital, especially in neocolonial countries. This is more imperative as evidence has shown that a strong health system, along with provision of safe water and sanitation, can reduce significantly the fatality and incidence of Ebola and other infectious diseases.

The Ebola crisis has also shown that without massive funding from governments and international agencies the multinational pharmaceutical companies will not produce a vaccine or treatment for Ebola even if all the clinical trials are successful.

This has also put on the agenda the call for public ownership of big pharmaceutical companies so that research and production of any medicine will be on the basis of the needs of humanity and not profit of a few. But all this will not be possible without a mass movement and struggle for socialist change.

The full version of Peluola's article can be read on

A tale of two worlds

William Pooley, the British volunteer nurse who survived Ebola virus, contracted in Sierra Leone, said after successful treatment in London: "I was very lucky... in the standard of care I received, which is a world apart from what people are receiving in West Africa at the moment."

Funding shortfall

The United Nations World Health Organisation's budget for outbreaks and crises has declined by 35% since 2010. WHO estimated that $103 million was needed to continue the fight against Ebola. But the agency only has a fifth of that available.

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Coronavirus crisis - Finance appeal

The coronavirus crisis has laid bare the class character of society in numerous ways. It is making clear to many that it is the working class that keeps society running, not the CEOs of major corporations.

The results of austerity have been graphically demonstrated as public services strain to cope with the crisis.

The government has now ripped up its 'austerity' mantra and turned to policies that not long ago were denounced as socialist. But after the corona crisis, it will try to make the working class pay for it, by trying to claw back what has been given.

  • The Socialist Party's material is more vital than ever, so we can continue to report from workers who are fighting for better health and safety measures, against layoffs, for adequate staffing levels, etc.
  • Our 'fighting coronavirus workers' charter', outlines a programme to combat the virus and protect workers' living conditions.
  • When the health crisis subsides, we must be ready for the stormy events ahead and the need to arm workers' movements with a socialist programme - one which puts the health and needs of humanity before the profits of a few.
Inevitably, during the crisis we have not been able to sell the Socialist and raise funds in the ways we normally would.
We therefore urgently appeal to all our viewers to donate to our special coronavirus appeal.

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