Ebola: A Virus in the Heart of Darkness
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Sid Shniad
2014-10-12 21:45:38 UTC
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<http://newpol.org/content/ebola-virus-heart-darkness>New Politics

*September 6, 2014Ebola: A Virus in the Heart of Darkness*

*Land grabbing by foreign private companies has come on the heels of
decades of structural adjustment, which has literally destroyed public
infrastructure, including education and health, in the poorest sub-Saharan
African countries.by Jean Batou *

*Filoviridae Ebola* is a virus made up of ten proteins that was first
identified in 1976 in Zaire, today the Democratic Republic of the Congo
(DRC). While today five types of the virus are recognized, they are all
believed to be mutations of the first known strain, which one finds today
in western Africa. (Gire et al., *Science, *August 28, 2014). Sub-Saharan
African fruit bats are without doubt the principal source [of the virus].
These flying mammals transmit it to monkeys and other animals, but also
directly to human beings. This pathogenic agent provokes recurrent
epidemics with a deadly fever, of which the first symptoms are flu-like,
followed by weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, and often hemorrhages, symptoms
that can easily be confused with other diseases. It leads to death within
ten days in more than half of all cases.

Since the first eruption of Ebola in the DRC some twenty epidemics have
affected ten countries, first in the Congo River basin—Ebola is the name of
one of its tributaries—then in West Africa, in particular in Guinea,
Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, and most recently in Senegal.[1]
<http://newpol.org/content/ebola-virus-heart-darkness#_edn1> Yet certainly
the current West African epidemic will take more victims than all of the
recent epidemics up until now. From 1976 to 2013, Ebola caused 2,345
deaths, while the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates conservatively
that some 20,000 people will fall victim to the current pandemic. Some
epidemiologists believe that these figures could be at least five times
higher (*Mediapart, *September 2, 2014). Indeed, for the first time it has
followed a new path into important urban centers, among them Conakry,
Guinea; Monrovia, Liberia; and Freetown, Sierra Leone. Finally, note that
it is women who bear the brunt of this virus, because it is mostly women
who are caring for the patients.

*Ebola and Land-Grabbing*

How can we explain the transmission to human beings of this virus which has
previously been confined to the wilderness? It stems from the more and more
intense exploitation of the African savannah, a vast zone of some 1.5
million square miles from Senegal to South Africa, which the United Nations
Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Bank portray as the new
agricultural El Dorado of the world.[2]
<http://newpol.org/content/ebola-virus-heart-darkness#_edn2> The decline of
small-scale peasant agriculture to the benefit of export agribusiness has,
as is well known, led to the uprooting of millions of small, poor producers
and the concentration of land in great multinational corporations. This
“accumulation by dispossession” is booming in the countries that have been
touched by the Ebola virus. Such dispossession leads to the clearing of
vast areas of land and creates precarious rural communities that hunt game,
game that had previously no contact at all with human beings.

Of course, monkeys, small mammals, and the bats have long been part of the
traditional food of the peoples of these regions. But their growing need
for proteins has led them to consume more and more of this bush meat, which
exposes them to new emerging pathogens.[3]
<http://newpol.org/content/ebola-virus-heart-darkness#_edn3> Furthermore,
disruption of ecosystems resulting from large-scale land clearing in recent
years has contributed to increased contact between infected animals and
human groups. In particular, the deforestation of 15,500 square miles in
sub-Saharan Africa between 2000 and 2010, that is, almost a third of the
world’s deforestation, together with global warming have accentuated the
aridity and the duration of the dry season, two factors favorable to the
outbreak of epidemics, to such a degree that they push the animal carriers
of various viruses out of their traditional ecological niches.[4]

In the recent period, the countries touched by the ongoing epidemic have
been particularly favored by international investors because of their
abundance of “available” cultivable land, the vulnerability of their small
peasants dedicated to subsistence agriculture, and favorable political
conditions (the promotion of free enterprise and the decline of the state).
It is in this way that big Italian (Nuove Iniziative Industriali) and
American interests (Farm Land of Guinea) have set their sights on Guinea.
One also finds Malaysian investments (Sime Darby) in Liberia, as well as
Swiss companies (Addax) and Chinese-Vietnamese ventures in Sierra Leone.
They control the production of biofuels which is rapidly expanding.

A small peasant talked about the social consequences of the control of the
Malaysian company Sime Darby over thousands of acres of land in Liberia:
“Now we have lack of food, no food and no hospital. No school. We are not
working... It’s hard to pay the teachers
So they go away.”[5]
<http://newpol.org/content/ebola-virus-heart-darkness#_edn5> Land grabbing
by foreign private companies has come on the heels of decades of structural
adjustment, which has literally destroyed public infrastructure, including
education and health, in the poorest sub-Saharan African countries. Today,
Ebola will exacerbate this endemic poverty by causing a specific food
crisis in the most affected areas as a direct result of quarantine imposed,
disrupting farming and trade and provoking the increased prices of staple
foods. (*USA Today*, August 28, 2014).

*Ransom from Poverty*

The first outbreak of the current epidemic seems to have developed, in
December 2013, in the villages surrounding the town of Guéckédou, south of
Guinea, a city that has seen its population nearly tripled in the decade
from 2000 to 2010 following the influx of refugees from civil wars in
Sierra Leone and Liberia. Its public infrastructure is of course
incompatible with the basic needs of its people, and the authorities are
totally discredited. As expected, its medical staff, few and underequipped,
does not have the means to cope with the influx of patients and protect
themselves from infection, turning its very fragile health institutions
into centers of propagation of the epidemic.

Under such conditions, where there is still no test available on site to
determine if a person has been infected (this requires sending samples to
Europe or North America), the epidemic quickly escaped control. Little by
little it touched the surrounding communities, especially Guéckédou, which
is the seat of an important regional market, and then moved on to the
capitals of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. It is important to realize
that, according to epidemiological investigations, each patient may have
had contact with on average 20 to 40 people, whom it would theoretically be
necessary to identify and track for 21 days (*Le Monde,* August 5, 2014).

In Europe or North America, it would not be difficult to stop the contagion
of a disease that is mainly transmitted through direct contact with body
fluids of patients (saliva, sweat, vomit, urine, feces, semen, blood ,
etc.), although the possibility of infection by inhaling the virus does not
seem excluded (*American Thinker*, August 24, 2014). Indeed, unlike AIDS,
the Ebola incubation time is short (ten days on average) and those affected
are contagious only during the brief period when they have symptoms. So one
just needs to have the health infrastructure to support patients safely
(use of gowns, gloves and effective masks, clean needles, etc.), keep them
from having unprotected contact with their families, and also be able to
inform and track people who had contact with them.

However, in countries that have less of a doctor for 50,000 inhabitants,
“Aid workers on the ground
don't have access to the basics to protect
themselves and their patients. Many of their hospitals are dilapidated,
there's limited infection control and almost no capacity for contact
tracing.” (*Vox, *August 9, 2014). In total, according to WHO, nearly 8% of
victims of Ebola have been doctors and nurses. (*The Spokesman-Review*,
August 31, 2014). “In Sierra Leone, in the town of Kenema, eighteen doctors
and nurses who had been working in the Lassa/Ebola ward have contracted
Ebola, and at least five have died
.Some Ebola nurses had stopped coming to
work: they had been working twelve-hour days, in biohazard suits, and they
were supposed to be earning an extra thirty dollars a week in hazard pay,
but the government of Sierra Leone had not provided it
.In Liberia, parts
of the medical system have effectively collapsed
.The hospitals of
Monrovia, the capital, are full of Ebola patients and are turning away new
infected bodies are being left in the streets : the outbreak is
beginning to assume a medieval character. » (*The New Yorker*, August 11,

*Popular Mobilization is Indispensable*

An effective fight against the epidemic implies more resources, but above
all it requires a popular mobilization along with the public health
professionals, particularly to prevent the ill from being hidden by their
families and to make sure that funeral ceremonies are safe—the dead are
particularly contagious—as well as to disinfect the homes of the death, but
also and above all to demand a health policy that meets the needs of the
endangered populations.

Such conditions are missing in many of these communities that have good
reasons to mistrust their authorities. The more so since the later would
rather criminalize families who hide sick relatives in order to take care
of them privately, and deploy soldiers to keep people from moving, rather
than increasing financing for health and encouraging collective health
management (*E-International Relations, *26 juillet 2014 : *Le Monde, *1er
août 2014).

Moreover, why should the inhabitants of the countries under discussion
trust stranger stakeholders who are overwhelmingly white (WHO, MSF, UNICEF,
Red Cross, etc.), deployed on the ground dressed in spacesuits, and who
snatch their dead and place them in plastic bags? Given the role of
international financial institutions in the imposition of structural
adjustment programs deadly last thirty years, all the ingredients are
present that fuel the conspiracy theories of those who suspect racist and
neocolonialist interests have deliberately caused outbreaks of AIDS and
Ebola to appropriate again the wealth of Africa?[6]

The spontaneous initiatives of artists, singers and actors and also of
bloggers to alert their fellow citizens and encourage them to protect
themselves from the illness, as well as the involvement of the survivors in
prevention campaigns suggest what might be a first attempt at a preferable
method. (NPR, August 19, 2014; ABCNews, August 26, 2014). However, a true
grassroots organization of resistance to the epidemic requires the
recognition of basic democratic rights and their translation at the
organizational level, things incompatible with the preservation of enormous
privileges of the local bourgeoisies and their international mentors.

Finally, on the international level, the belated and hesitant reaction of
the WHO seems all the more ridiculous. The budget at its disposal to deal
with the crises of epidemic outbreaks has been halved over the past two
years: from $469 million in 2012-2013 to $228 million in 2014-2015. It is a
sign of the time that the World Bank has allocated $200 million for this
emergency to make up for the shortcomings of the UN agency (*The Lancet*,
September 2014). Similarly, the non-governmental organizations such as
Doctors Without Borders (MSF), or religious orders such as San Juan de
Dios—the order to which a Spanish priest who recently fell victim to the
epidemic belonged—have been at the forefront of intervention on the ground
[7] <http://newpol.org/content/ebola-virus-heart-darkness#_edn7>. This is a
vivid picture of the privatization of essential tasks, increasingly
neglected by governments and international organizations.

*The Moral Bankruptcy of Capitalism*

Since WHO declared quite late, on August 8, that the West African epidemic
had become an international health emergency, the most advanced
pharmaceutical start-up companies involved in the development of vaccines
or antivirals, such as Tekmira, Sarepta, BioCryst, NanoViricides, Mapp Bio,
ZMapp (a cocktail of three antibodies successfully administered to two
exposed U.S. humanitarian aid workers, but that failed on a Spanish priest
and a Liberian doctor), saw their rising shares trading wildly. These
companies have developed substances, albeit in experimental quantities,
which are almost ready for testing on humans (Reuters, August 8, 2014;
*Forbes*, August 29, 2014).

According to Prof. Daniel Bausch of the Tulane School of Public Health and
Tropical Medicine, the principal obstacle to the production of these
effective medication is not scientific or technical but economic:
“Pharmaceutical companies have little incentive to pour research and
development dollars into curing a disease that surfaces sporadically in
low-income, African countries.” (nakedcapitalism.com*, *August 2014). This
is why Dr. John Ashton, president of the British Public Health faculty
speaks publicly of the “moral bankruptcy of capitalism.” (*Independent on
Sunday, *August 3, 2014).

So far, Ebola has managed to interest the military in the name of
preventing bioterrorism. But major pharmaceuticals have had funding denied
for essential and very expensive clinical trials. So far the WHO has
forbidden the testing of vaccines on human subjects, given the very high
fatality rate of the viruses. It is urgent, says the world-renowned Belgian
researcher Peter Piot, one of the co-discovers of the Ebola virus and
founding member of the Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt
(CADTM), that, “Once the epidemic is complete, there be more investment
efforts in research on treatments and vaccines. Otherwise, when a new
outbreak occurs, nothing will have been done. After the 1976 outbreak, the
WHO had said that it wanted to put together an international intervention
team. But that never took place”. Piot has called for development aid to
finance research and to provide free care under the responsibility of the
WHO for those suffering from the disease. (*Le Monde*, August 7, 2014).

The tragic ongoing epidemic shows how the unbridled pursuit of private
profit is incompatible with public health, especially that of the poor
masses of the oppressed countries. The French far-right leader Jean-Marie
only pushes the logic of such barbarity to its extremes when he states that
“Monseigneur Ebola” has the means to stop the global population explosion
in three months. To go beyond the legitimate indignation and really change
the course of things, we must indeed break with the current world disorder.
First, public health should not be separated from our ecosocialist
objectives, because our health depends upon our living environment and our
society’s productivism constantly promotes the emergence of new somatic and
psychological pathologies, which capitalism then sloughs off on society,
whatever the cost. The pharmaceutical industry and research will not meet
the needs of humanity, especially of its poorest groups, if it doesn’t give
up the practice of limiting the distribution of their products to paying
customers instead of addressing the democratically defined social needs of
the populations concerned. For that purpose, they should be socialized and
funded by the public sector. Couldn’t this begin by transforming the
parasitic and pharaonic public debt service paid by the peoples of the
South and the North, and using this money to fund health care?

Translation by Dan La Botz

[1] <http://newpol.org/content/ebola-virus-heart-darkness#_ednref1> An
epidemic with a shorter timespan also broke out in the Democratic Republic
of the Congo (DRC) last July, likely linked to another strain of Ebola.

[2] <http://newpol.org/content/ebola-virus-heart-darkness#_ednref2> *Awakening
Africa’s Sleeping Giant - Prospects for Commercial Agriculture in the
Guinea Savannah Zone and* *Beyond*, World Bank, 2009.

[3] <http://newpol.org/content/ebola-virus-heart-darkness#_ednref3> These
kinds of mechanisms have recently been studied in a global fashion by David
Quammen (*Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic*, W. W.
Norton, 2012).

[4] <http://newpol.org/content/ebola-virus-heart-darkness#_ednref4> Daniel
G. Bausch and Lara Schwarz, “Outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in Guinea:
Where Ecology Meets Economy,” *PLos Negl Trop Dis, *8(7), July 31,
2014; *Wired,
*August 18, 2014; Calestous Juma, “Africa Ebola Outbreak: How to Prevent
It?” *Al Jazeeera, *August 13, 2014.

[5] <http://newpol.org/content/ebola-virus-heart-darkness#_ednref5> *The
Globe and Mail*, « Land Grabs in Africa : Liberia”

[6] <http://newpol.org/content/ebola-virus-heart-darkness#_ednref6> See in
this regard the statement explaining the reasons for the petition launched
by the mathematician Pascal Adjamagbo, Dr. Guy Alovor and Kanyana Mutombo
which calls on the African Union, in association with the Security Council
of the UN, to set up a commission of inquiry into the origins of AIDS and
Ebola. (

[7] <http://newpol.org/content/ebola-virus-heart-darkness#_ednref7> This
religious order is partially funded by revenues of the public bonds of the
Spanish State (*La Jornada,* August 17, 2014). That is to say, that the
Spanish health or education budget may have to be reduced to support these
private organizations.
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