As Facebook newsfeeds are flooded with statuses about how, "More
people have been married to Kim Kardashian than have Ebola in the
US," it would seem sensibility has prevailed over
mass World War Z Zombie panic, as I like to call it.
(Side note-WWZ is a great book to read about the mindset behind
international disease epidemics.) Although the U.S. population has
cooled down in their panic about the few diagnosed patients on the
mainland, the disease is still very real in countries like
Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. So, when politicians like
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) push to
add incentives for Ebola drug development in the United States, who
exactly are they looking to help? And, did they miss the window for
getting this incentive passed quickly enough to help the most
There are 16 deadly conditions that currently fall under the priority review voucher
program (PVR) for neglected tropical diseases (NTD).
These conditions affect millions of people in developing countries,
but are considered "neglected" in Europe and the United States due
to their rare prevalence and lack of potential profit. The
vouchers given out by this program to qualifying pharmaceutical
companies developing drugs or medicines to treat one of the 16
conditions allow the companies to have their FDA standard review
expedited; there is also a bonus review voucher that can be sold to
another company. This year, one of those vouchers
sold for $67.5 million. But in 2007, when the law was passed,
Ebola was not considered a serious threat.
Politicians have taken various stances on the issue. Some
politicians have seemingly tried to take advantage of the epidemic
and gain the public's favor by doing things like
forcing quarantine on returning nurses, causing them to spend
nights in unheated tents without proper bathrooms. Others have
pushed for more funding put toward the Centers for Disease Control
(CDC) to add Ebola to the FDA PVR program and make it easier to
obtain vouchers. Under the current law, it is very difficult to
obtain one of these vouchers; only four vouchers have been awarded
over the past seven years.
Although the Ebola virus finally making its way to the United
States has been tragic, it has caused a surge of pressure on
congress and the CDC to
pass an amendment on the PVR law to include infectious diseases
disease and Ebola. While the Ebola hysteria dies down, the
window of having the Ebola on the forefront of Congress' collective
mind is also closing. This is important because Ebola remains
prevalent in West African nations. Losing this issue in the U.S.
Congress may mean we risk losing the ability to treat Ebola in
these developing countries, at the disease's core. For information
on how you can help urge your local congress representative to take
a stand against infectious diseases such as Ebola visit http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/.