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.