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‘Ebola was declared dangerous just when it started to apply to white people’

Published time: August 13, 2014 13:33
Medical staff take a blood sample from a suspected Ebola patient at the government hospital in Kenema, July 10, 2014 (Reuters / Tommy Trenchard)

Since 1976 there were 34 outbreaks of the Ebola virus in Africa, even so the vaccine for Africans was not perceived as a priority, but the situation has changed, Bob Rigg, formerly at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, told RT.

RT: Ebola first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks in Sudan and Congo and there is no licensed vaccine yet. Why has there not been a vaccine created in more than 30 years?

Bob Rigg: Since 1976, as I put it in my article, there have been about 34 outbreaks of Ebola worldwide. One of this was in the US but it was not serious. If there have been 34 Ebola outbreaks for example in Russia or in New Zealand in that time period there would have been a vaccine somewhere in the world, the globalization would have decided that it is the real problem and the vaccine would have been developed and made available. But because the outbreaks took place in Africa, which is a dark poor continent with only a Black population, which is viewed as ethnically inferior, the vaccine for Africans was not perceived as a priority. But now that it applies to White people and non-Africans and Ebola is perceived as dangerous. Suddenly there is a major scramble to develop a vaccine.

RT: Why has the development of a vaccine begun just recently? Is it connected to fears that the deadly virus could spread to the US and the West?

BR: This is quite clear from all the statements. First of all, there is a real risk that it could be transmitted to other parts of Africa. Second, there is a real concern that the cat could be out of the bag and it could actually spread beyond Africa to the Middle East or to Europe or to North America, but also elsewhere because you can’t control who travels where and this is the trouble. Just yesterday in Geneva the Director General of the World Health Organization held a press conference. She made it very clear that she spoke to the ambassadors of the countries in Africa and they were telling her that they were totally overwhelmed by the situation, they can’t cope and that without aid it is out control.

RT: A San Diego biopharmaceutical firm Mapp has created a drug called Zmapp. And NewLink Genetics has signed a $1 million contract with the US Department of Defense to bring the already manufactured Ebola vaccine closer to human trials. Is this reasonable spending of tax-payers money?

BR: There is a real risk we’ll face it all. This outbreak is more or less out of control in Africa that is bad enough. That’s a huge continent with a large population. But there is also risk that it will go beyond that. So it is a high priority for the world to develop the vaccine because if the outbreak continues, if people are seriously ill with Ebola, if there is no vaccine, it is very probably that they will die. If there is vaccine there is much more hope that they will survive. So it is in our interests to save these lives and also to stop the outbreak. But if the outbreak widens and there is no vaccine, it is more probable that you will get it out of control.

As to your other question, Zmapp, the company has already made it clear that the tiny amount that they had available is already used up. And there will be several months before they will be able to produce another small amount of Zmapp for international use. But even in the meantime there is a major outbreak; the matter of fact is that it would be far too little for the international need.

RT: A Spanish priest who was treated using the vaccine has died. Does that indicate that the vaccine doesn't actually work, although so much money was spent on it?

BR: Basically so little is known about this vaccine that it is actually impossible to generalize about this lethalness. You need quite far reaching tests on a lot of number of human beings before you can establish if it is lethal. So the problem is the will to put all the apples into the basket of that vaccine which is untried and untested. So the evidence available to us is that the vaccine is far from healing.

RT: Some researchers believe that a vaccine to combat the Ebola virus may be several years away. What do you think the prospects are on future research to find a vaccine?

BR: First of all, I am not scientist, but my experience tells me that at first and until now there has been a resistance in the US for any vaccine to be tested on human beings. But because of the risks involved and extremely expensive, they could have cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But it also took a lot of time but until now, the US has insisted on the extremely expensive and time consuming and costly tests. If there is an outbreak there will be a desperate need for the vaccine now. The US authorities and other international authorities come under enormous pressure to permit the use of vaccines that were not properly tested. So the risk is that we end up using a medicine which doesn’t work, and we will continue our research. Assuming fairly thorough tests on human beings, it will take at least one year from now, maybe two years from now.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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