Diseases run riot ... who to blame, Gov't or private sector?
Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
As criticisms mount condemning the private sector for its lacklustre approach to the Ebola crisis, in certain quarters, it is felt that governments should have accepted responsibility for the funding of a drug for the devastating Ebola disease earlier.
The comments come in the wake of pharmaceutical companies failing to develop a drug to treat the disease which has been around since 1976, while pledges of international help have not yet had any significant impact on the epidemic in West Africa.
Up to a month ago, only one government in this region, Colombia, had disbursed US$100,000 to the United Nations Trust Fund, to help in the fight, said an October 17 report by the BBC. The Trust Fund's target is US$1 billion.
Responding to the lack of support and absence of government leadership in the matter globally, vice-president of the Medical Association of Jamaica, Professor Marvin Reid, said governments have a responsibility to invest in intervention that will enhance the health of their population.
Having said that, he noted that what-ever it is that is your disease profile, the government of that particular country has a responsibility to its population to invest in any intervention that is going to help.
"I would support an argument to a point to say that governments within their financial capabilities should invest for their health, to say they are going to do drug trials is another thing, because it's a very costly venture. It may not be seen as a prudent investment," he stated.
According to Professor Reid, during the HIV epidemic, India and Brazil and other coun-tries decided they were going to manufacture HIV drugs, because they considered it a national priority and the impact it would have on their countries, which contributed to the pharmaceutical companies reaching an agreement to get the drugs universally more affordable in terms of the pricing mechanism.
He argues that he is not in support of any argument that says governments should stay out of these sorts of things.
"Governments make decisions based on a series of factors. Health is a national issue. If this is an area not taken care of, you end up with unhealthy people, so the factors have to be weighed."
Executive director of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), Dennis Chung, concurs, stating that even though Ebola was localised, the risk was too great, so it was shortsightedness on the part of governments not to have invested in finding a drug.
In reality, he said it wasn't profitable for the private sector to invest in it, "so therefore, I would not expect people to invest", he noted.
Jamaica's Minister of Health Fenton Ferguson does not necessarily agree with that scenario, he is of the opinion that the creation of pharmaceuticals is something that should be driven by the private sector.
"A drug for treating Ebola is one I believe would be a major breakthrough for any private entity and, therefore, what I would question is the lack of urgency," he said.
Pointing out that now that there is a major breakout in West Africa, which has also impacted the USA and Spain, he said that, for the first time, the World Health Organization has given permission for use of a drug that has not had extensive clinical trials.
"What we are now seeing is a significant race to come to a position where those trials can be done, and by 2015, when we should have an Ebola vaccine on the table."
He said that, given a 90 per cent mortality rate, the private sector should have been more proactive.
In the meantime, former secretary general of the UN, Kofi Annan was quoted by BBC as saying, "If the Ebola crisis had hit any other region, it would have probably been handled differently."
According to him, the international community woke up only when the disease got to the US and Europe, "yet we should have known that, in this interconnected world, it was only a question of time".
In late October, the UN short-term fund had raised US$377 million so far, with the US being the largest contributor.