The economics of Ebola

We must prioritize drug development to fight Ebola
By Editorial Board
Washington Post, 2014-09-24


Good public health practices —
locating and isolating the sick,
containing the virus with cordons to stop the chain of transmission —
are still the basic weapons against a disease for which
there is no cure, vaccine or therapeutic.
But as the WHO warns, the traditional approach may fail.
If that happens, vaccines and therapeutics will become essential.
Unfortunately, not a single drug or vaccine is ready.

Drug development is expensive and complex.
In the United States, much of the biomedical basic research
is supported by the government,
but the development of new drugs largely occurs in the private sector,
driven by the market.
Until this year, there was no market for Ebola virus treatments
because earlier outbreaks were all relatively small.
Although there are some experimental therapies against Ebola,
none have developed very far.
Some of these investigational compounds exist only because of
extensive investment of the U.S. government in biodefense preparedness over the past 14 years.
The worry was Ebola could be used as a bioterrorism weapon;
now Mother Nature seems to have pulled the trigger instead.

Intense development work on experimental drugs and vaccines
is underway in the United States and United Kingdom,
but it is not simple to create a new treatment,
put it through clinical trials and manufacture it.
Sensitive ethical and logistical questions surround these new remedies,
especially if there is a limited supply.
Although the need is urgent,
rigorous testing for safety and efficacy cannot be short-circuited.
But the government, researchers and the private sector
must make the quest for therapeutics and vaccines a high priority
in case the worst-case scenarios come true.

[Part of the WHO report is as follows
(but the emphasis is added by the author of the current blog):]


Because Ebola virus is spread mainly through contact with
the body fluids of symptomatic patients,
transmission can be stopped by a combination of
early diagnosis, contact tracing, patient isolation and care,
infection control, and safe burial.1



These data indicate that
without drastic improvements in control measures,
the numbers of cases of and deaths from EVD are expected to continue increasing
from hundreds to thousands per week in the coming months.

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