Ebola Drug Safety Tests Raise Ethical Issues As NY Times Commends Cuba

Oct. 20 (GIN)––Can you test a promising new Ebola drug by giving it to one sample infected group and giving a deactivated placebo to another? That’s the issue dividing medical experts at a World Health Organization meeting this week in Geneva.

“Is that even ethical? Will workers amid an epidemic be willing to consider getting a placebo? Which villages won’t get the active vaccine? Will the bad roads and overwhelmed medical systems even allow for such a study?” These questions were posed in a recent Wall Street Journal article.

A rigorous vaccine study that would cover anywhere from 5,000 to 30,000 subjects would be challenging to say the least in the three affected West African countries.

The issue has moved to the front burner since a drug developed at the National Institutes of Health’s Vaccine Research Center has been proved to block Ebola. “[We] have generated, for the first time, durable protection against a lethal Ebola virus challenge,” the NIH scientists reported in the journal Nature Medicine.

But the next step—a clinical study in the region—presents daunting hurdles. The vaccine needs to be kept at the temperature of dry ice. That means a minus 80-degree centigrade freezer in a part of the world with a spotty power system, notes WSJ reporter Thomas M. Burtos.

Reaching treatment centers in the rural countryside from congested Monrovia could take days. Finally, health care workers might object to taking part in a test if only half of them are getting the actual drug as opposed to the placebo.

Meanwhile, in an unusual turn from its frequently negative Cuba reporting, The New York Times this week sang high praises for the “impressive role” of Cuba in sending close to 500 medical professionals to Sierra Leone.

“Cuba stands to play the most robust role among the nations seeking to contain the virus,” wrote the paper of record in its leading editorial. “While the United States and several other wealthy countries have been happy to pledge funds, only Cuba and a few nongovernmental organizations are offering what is most needed: medical professionals in the field.”

Calling it “a shame” that Washington is diplomatically estranged from Havana, the editorial adds that “the schism has life-or-death consequences.” It was an urgent reminder, they wrote, of the need “to move swiftly to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba … as the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.”

EVICTION PLANS IN THE CARDS FOR ZIMBABWE’S LANDLESS POOR

Oct. 20 (GIN)—President Robert Mugabe’s land reform initiative turned lives upside down in the year 2000 and now upside down again as the settlers who moved onto lands that white farmers once owned now find themselves facing eviction by the same government.

Approximately 8 million hectares of farmland owned by 3,000 white farmers in 1999 are now legally state-owned, according to the Valuation Consortium, a private, Harare-based body that collects information from evicted white farmers. According to the constitution, leases cannot be given to new owners until the dispossessed white farmers are compensated.

In the meantime, many of the new Black beneficiaries have neither security of tenure nor legal protection afforded to tenants and can be evicted at will.

This spring, the government announced a crackdown on settlers without proper ownership documents. “Those who settled themselves will be evicted,” said Douglas Mombeshora, minister of lands and rural resettlement. “Those farmers who have been staying for about 10 years should have their settlements formalized.”

Faber Chidarikire, minister of Mashonaland West, added, “People have been illegally occupying land and sometimes invading land which is not suitable for farming … Some people have settled on pastures, while others have invaded other people’s farms. We are going to evict these people.”

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