Opinion: Ebola: Are We Thinking Right? By Dimeji Daniels

The Ebola Virus was first identified in 1976 in Nzara, Sudan and Yambuku in the Democratic Republic of Congo. These two locations played host to the first simultaneous outbreaks of the disease. In fact, the second location, Yambuku, is very close to the Ebola River from which the disease derived its name which is currently sending fear down the spine of many the world over.

What is curious is that there is yet to be any cure for the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) after so many years. It is more curious that down the line a cocktail of antiretroviral drugs under what is known as Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) has been known to suppress the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), thus halting the progression of the disease and as a result prolonging the life of the infected. In the case of Ebola Virus, not much luck has been recorded and it is more helplessly worrisome that Africa where the virus is most virulent practically relies on the western world to bottle-feed her on any progress in any significant area of her life. Except for the latest experimental drug ZMapp, Africa is stuck with Ebola. That however may not be for too long.

While some may be fixated on humanity in their little corner of the world, it is a cruel but realistic fact that large corporations who could fund researches into discoveries of cures for virulent diseases such as Ebola are above any other considerations interested in profit – pure, naked profit and not mercy or the preservation of any race. To achieve this, various pharmaceutical companies in the west will need a sheer considerable population to buy the drug. The recent Ebola disease death rates of over 1, 000 just doesn’t cut it with these pharmaceutical companies.

AIDS was first diagnosed in the United States of America, but today Africa is worst hit by it, and before some pessimists start to tell me about the unhygienic ways of life or the traditional practices in Africa that aid the spread of HIV, it must be said that it is not only in Africa where there are the so-called traditional practices and long before this disease – AIDS – was discovered in the west, Africans have revelled in their traditional practices.

In 2012 alone, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 70 percent of the people infected with HIV the world over, that is 25 million people. 1.6 million new infections and 1.2 million AIDS-related deaths were recorded in the same year in addition to the initial figure. According to the United Nations, an estimated “between US$22-24 billion will be needed annually by 2015, in order to reach global targets. In 2011, there was a total global investment of 16.8 billion.” Guess which continent is the largest market of the pharmaceutical companies manufacturing these antiretroviral drugs. Africa.

With the trend this latest outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease seems to be taking, Africa seems to be on the verge of another hollowness, one which unfortunately her bottle-fed leaders seem not to be aware of. The worst-hit countries are Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone. Should care not be taken, Nigeria may be on her way to a serious outbreak, the kind that will get the attention of western pharmaceutical companies owing to the large size of the Nigerian population – over 170 million. Imagine if 20 million of those are infected.

Rather than the current media razzmatazz embarked upon by politicians, Nigeria should at this time be asking all the necessary questions:

Why didn’t Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian harbinger of Ebola virus to Nigeria, die in his country knowing full well that he was infected and already manifesting symptoms? Why did the Liberian Deputy Finance Minister Sebastian Omar give approval for Sawyer to travel to Nigeria in his state? Did Liberia think she was not getting enough world attention and needed to transport the disease to the country (Nigeria) with the right population and western presence? Ignore the explanation by Sawyer’s widow that her husband believed Nigeria had a better health system and was in Nigeria in search of treatment.

That’s all bunkum because all Nigerians, both home and in the diaspora, know our health system in this country is a budget-sucking-no-result-to-show-for-it bottomless pit – the kind our leaders would not even trust to treat their headache. So, why was Sawyer released into the Nigerian population? To spread Ebola? Is there already a drug that could cure the disease but for which the manufacturers are seeking to make gargantuan profits and would need an outbreak in Nigeria to cash in on? Think about the attack on a quarantine centre in Liberia at the weekend where infected people were released into the population. For what purpose was this done? Who is behind all these? Will Ebola become another money-grossing disease for western pharmaceutical companies like HIV in Africa?

No doubt, HIV/AIDS has created widespread socio-economic consequences in all sectors of the African economy. It is estimated that HIV/AIDS may depress the GDP of South Africa by as much as 17% over the next decade. Only Heaven knows what Ebola will do if it goes full scale, but I guess we can guess. Africans seem not just to have become the laboratory rats for all sorts of pharmaceutical experiments, the continent has also definitely become the money-spinning machine of the west. Unfortunately, our leaders are too caught up with reaping political capital from everything that they have abandoned the human capital of the continent.

Dimeji Daniels is a social commentator and a broadcast journalist.

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