WaPo Plays Ebola Race Card: Why Do Two White Americans Get the Serum & Not Africans?

Yes. They went there.
Washington Post writer Arthur L. Caplan plays the Ebola race card.
us missionary africa ebola
Nancy Writebol in Liberia, where she contracted Ebola before being brought to an Atlanta hospital. (AP Photo/Courtesy Jeremy Writebol)

The Washington Post reported:

Why do two white Americans get the Ebola serum while hundreds of Africans die?

What should happen if a massive viral outbreak appears out of nowhere and the only possible treatment is an untested drug? And who should receive it? The two American missionaries who contracted the almost-always-fatal virus in West Africa were given access to an experimental drug cocktail called ZMapp. It consists of immune-boosting monoclonal antibodies that were extracted from mice exposed to bits of Ebola DNA. Now in isolation at an Atlanta hospital, they appear to be doing well.

It’s an opportunity the 900 Africans who’ve died so far never had. Is there a case to suspend ethical norms if lives might be saved by deploying an experimental drug?

The reasons for different treatment are partly about logistics, partly about economics and, partly about a lack of any standard policy for giving out untested drugs in emergencies. Before this outbreak, ZMapp had only been tested on monkeys. Mapp, the tiny, San Diego based pharmaceutical company that makes the drug stated two years ago: “When administered one hour after infection [with Ebola], all animals survived…Two-thirds of the animals were protected even when the treatment, known as Zmapp, was administered 48 hours after infection.”

But privileged humans were always going to be the first ones to try it. ZMapp requires a lot of refrigeration and careful handling, plus close monitoring by experienced doctors and scientists—better to try it at a big urban hospital than in rural West Africa, where no such infrastructure exists.

And because of the drug’s experimental nature, it’s unclear that it should go to anyone else. Even if the drug is cooled correctly, success in a few monkeys (less than 20) tells us little about what will happen in a lot of humans who’d had the infection for more than two days.

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