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Speaking to the WHO’s regional committee for Africa in Benin, she said: “Ebola emerged nearly four decades ago. Why are clinicians still empty-handed, with no vaccines and no cure?"
She continued: “Because Ebola has historically been confined to poor African nations. The R&D incentive is virtually non-existent. A profit-driven industry does not invest in products for markets that cannot pay.”
There is still no Ebola vaccine 40 years after the disease first emerged because it previously affected only poor African nations, the head of the World Health Organisation has said.
In unusually strident comments, Dr Margaret Chan, the director-general of the WHO, attacked drug companies and said that the reason clinicians were “empty-handed” was because “a profit-driven industry does not invest in products for markets that cannot pay”.
The WHO has itself faced criticism for its allegedly sluggish response to the Ebola crisis, and the organisation’s regional office in Africa has been described as “not competent” by the co-discoverer of Ebola Professor, Peter Piot.
Major pharmaceutical companies have shown little interest in developing effective treatments for diseases such as this. There’s no incentive for the commercial risks of research and companies naturally prefer to focus on diseases that can sustain large markets of wealthy regular users.
Let’s consider the most advanced drug: ZMapp, which is produced by Mapp Biopharmaceuticals and is the experimental treatment the fuss has been about. The incentive for developing ZMapp was clearly not its broad commercial potential. Instead, it is for developing capacity for biodefence.