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Monkeying Around With An Ebola Vaccine

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Ebola virus

Photo ReportingMonkeying Around With An Ebola Vaccine

Is it possible that a body grandiosely calling itself – after an American namesake – the “Food and Drugs Administration” (FDA) has approved the testing of a vaccine against the apocalyptic pestilence, Ebola, and that “guinea pigs” for the vaccine were being recruited in the Volta Region with an inducement of two hundred cedis and a mobile phone?

The ethics underlying the testing of any drug stipulate that it must only be carried out on people who can give“informed consent” to such trials being undertaken on themselves. It is also common sense for the scientists involved to take the larger communities in which the testing is to be done, into their confidence, by being absolutely transparent about the testing. For ignorance breeds fear, and fear breeds rumour and exaggeration.

This is why the Ebola testing attempt has come a cropper in Ghana. Most Ghanaians knew absolutely nothing about the programme until Starr FM radio station came into possession of information about it and dutifully shared its findings with the nation.

The radio station told its listeners that “officials of the University of Health and Allied Sciences in Ho” were “spearheading” the trial of an Ebola vaccine amongst its students.

A doctor quoted by the radio station was so insensitive that he mentioned two countries which no sane Ghanaian would touch with a bargepole at present: “The trial” [he said] has been successful in Liberia and Guinea and other places.”

Documents cited by Starr FM indicated that “students [at Hohoe] “have been promised GH¢200 each and mobile phones. They will also receive other compensations, such as transport fares, among other [things] depending on how the trial goes.”

A student told the radio station: “I’m really scared and a lot of my colleagues are apprehensive too. Currently, they are compiling our names for the trial but we don’t know whether the vaccine is safe or not; whether we’ll contract the disease or otherwise. Nobody is explaining anything to us.”

Starr FM‘s checks at the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) revealed that “the national regulatory body is indeed testing the efficacy of the vaccine. “Yes we are testing the vaccine,” a spokesperson of the FDA, James Lartey, confirmed to Starr FM. Lartey said he was not in a position to disclose the stage of the test. But Starr FM was told that “another test” was “scheduled for Kintampo in the Brong Ahafo Region.”

The Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Health and Allied Sciences, Professor Fred Binka, was quoted by the radio station as saying that the trials would “inform” scientists on the effective results regarding the Ebola vaccine. They formed “part of preparations towards any case detection in Ghana” and had the “full backing of the World Health Organisation” (WHO).

Starr FM named the antiviral vaccine as “Brincidofovir” and said it had been tested on Ebola patients on a voluntary basis in Liberia. A similar drug, “Ffavipiravir,” had been used in Guinea. It was, however, “unclear” which one was to be tested in Ghana. Starr FM quoted WHO figures as showing that “a total of 26,763 [Ebola] cases had been confirmed as of May 18 [2015], with 11,074 reported deaths in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.”

Naturally, the news about the vaccine trials caused a sensation in Ghana. How could such a proposal have been ushered into Ghana without the Ministry of Health, the FDA, the Ghana Academy of Sciences or any other relevant body, ever preparing the populace for its implementation? Do these institutions that are funded by taxpayers think that that the people of this country belong to those institutions?

Well, the Parliament of Ghana didn’t think so. For once, the national interest seemed to have overridden party political interest in our Parliament, and an order went forth from the Speaker to bring the Minister of Health to the House to explain what was going on to MPs. Meanwhile, the minister of health himself issued an order for the testing to be stopped.

What happened next was instructive; some of the Ghanaians behind the project suddenly began to creep out of the woodwork.

The view of the Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Health and Allied Sciences, Professor Fred Binka, said the trials formed part of preparations towards any case detection in Ghana. They had the “full backing” of the World Health Organisation, he claimed.

The question then is: has the University of Health and Allied Sciences obtained funds of any description from any organisation, be it a private company or an international agency, to collaborate with it on trials of the Ebola vaccine in Ghana?

Our Parliament must compel the ministry responsible for the university to make the details of such funding public, if, indeed, such funding has occurred, or been promised.

Another person who made questionable statements on the issue was Professor Alex Dodoo, an “Associate Professor of the University of Ghana” who is “with the WHO”.

According to Joy FM, Prof Dodoo “condemned” the reaction of Ghanaian politicians to the Ebola vaccine trial in Ghana. “People have gotten it so wrong and it is sad. It is sad for the country, it is sad for science,” he said.

I am sorry, Professor, you are the one who’s got it wrong. Did you take it upon yourself, if you knew so much about the project, to exchange ideas with our parliamentarians and other opinion leaders about its underlying value?

Where else in the world, Professor, would anyone simply draw up a programme on a frightful disease like Ebola, take it secretly to a country (that has been fortunate enough to escape from a disease that has killed over 11,000 people in its neighbours) and expect its people to accept the programme without open, public discussion?

You see, we live in a democratic country and it would be “so sad” if our elected representatives were to allow any institution or person to use the people of this country as guinea pigs, without verifying the ethics associated with such research. May I remind you of the horrific Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.


conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the U.S. Public Health Service in Alabama? And more recently, the way live anthrax viruses have been transported in error across laboratories in the USA, and to Australia and South Korea, from state-of-the-art American institutions of research, where such accidents are not supposed to happen?

By Cameron Duodu

Source: www.cameronduodu.com



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