Who Profits From Ebola? – 5 Ways to See the Bigger Picture
1. Mass Surveillance
Governments always had to swim against waves of backlash each time they pushed for new surveillance legislation, but recently whistleblowers unearthed just at what level acronym agencies eye the public, causing far redder faces and far louder teeth-grinding than ever before.
Legislators used to clothe new laws in the burqa of terrorism, but that fabric is now worn out. In fact, it never fit to begin with: foil an extremist’s plot, and it never existed to the public. You cannot test someone to prove he’s a terrorist whose attack you prevented thanks to mass surveillance.
However: you can very well test for Ebola. Heal an Ebola sufferer, and you are a demigod who deserves all his divine powers of observation. That is, if you successfully sell the idea that Ebola can only be tackled using mass surveillance:
“[…] We need to take a forward-looking approach that captures and utilizes as much data as possible, interpreting it smartly to better understand the lifestyle, environment and behavior of those affected.” (source: CNBC)
Meanwhile, scientists exposed big data as inaccurate and doubt its usefulness:
“[…] [Google Flue Trends] was predicting more than double the proportion of doctor visits for influenza-like illness (ILI) than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)” (source: Science Magazine)
Old-fashioned terrorism leaves traces to be dissected by critics. A pandemic, on the other hand, is the perfect weapon — it is invisible and you have to rely on what the experts say. It doesn’t single out infidels, it threatens everyone. The panic spreads faster than the pandemic itself, and any Ebola-sceptic is a naive liability whose carelessness might spread the virus, so his opinion will be silenced.
Beating Ebola with surveillance would be beating months of horrible PR against surveillance.
2. Quarantine Camps, Curfews and Mandatory Vaccinations
Slippery hands plague public authorities around the world who try to grasp Ebola victims mingling with healthy folks. At airports, questionnaires about recent contacts stand between the passengers and their boarding.
But a mere batch of “No”s will let anyone pass, as
“We expect people to do the honorable thing,” (source: ABC News)
is how the Liberian Airport Authority checks for truth.
Yet one confirmed U.S. case later, authorities realized their flop and flexed their muscle — the family of the U.S. victim are under house arrest, whose
“[…] violation could result in criminal charges.” (source)
While a single family can easily be kept at home, a further outbreak might force the U.S. authorities to copy from their counterparts in Sierra Leone, who
“told all 5.8 million Sierra Leoneans to stay indoors from September 19 to 21 inclusive” (source),
and then their Liberian counterparts, who began to confine victims to camps.
The U.S. might use a more marketable label like “Community Health Centers”, who could serve forced vaccinations of questionable content with the nodding approval of the uninfected public outside.
The recent overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system was the most significant since 1965. To many Americans, the new socialized healthcare seems alien and authoritarian. Getting them to accept would require immense advertising. But perhaps a shortcut exists:
“Obamacare May Hold the Key to Saving the U.S. from Ebola” (source: Foreign Policy)
After all, the current outbreak
“[…] has drawn our attention to America’s unique vulnerability to contagious diseases: our health system.” (source: Chicago Tribune)
More precisely, the vulnerability are
“[…] the uninsured and underinsured of America [who] go to public hospital emergency rooms for care, where waiting times in often-crowded settings can stretch on for hours.” (source)
From this perspective, the U.S. only has one chance against Ebola: everyone needs insurance.
4. Big Pharma
The obvious candidate for profiting from any disease are pharmaceutical companies, who have been addressing the current outbreak with an alarming ease:
“The scientist leading Britain’s response to the Ebola pandemic has launched an attack on “Big Pharma”, accusing drugs giants including GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Sanofi, Merck and Pfizer of failing to manufacture a vaccine, not because it was impossible but because there was “no business case”.” (source: New Zealand Herald)
This is no secret and is even admitted by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry itself:
“Unfortunately, the standard economic model for drug development, in which industry takes all of the risk in R&D and gets a return on investment from successful products, does not work for diseases that primarily impact low-income countries and developing healthcare systems.” (source)
Hidden in that statement is an appeal for government funding, which is probably why research was conducted with low intensity so far: Now that Ebola has reached the United States, and potential drugs remain ”unlicensed and experimental”, panic has spread and the U.S. government was left with no other choice than funding pharmaceutical companies:
[…] the US Government has given Mapp US$25 million […] to scale up production. (source)
Also, as the first U.S. case became public, the stocks of companies researching Ebola skyrocketed:
“Shares of Inovio Pharmaceuticals shares rose 35 cents, or 3.6 percent, to $10.20 in aftermarket trading, while NewLink Genetics shares gained $2.68, or 12.5 percent, to $24.10. Stock of some other companies that have been involved in efforts to come up with vaccines and medications also jumped. BioCryst Pharmaceuticals added $1.26, or 13 percent, to $11.04; Sarepta Therapeutics rose $1.57, or 7.4 percent, to $22.67; and Tekmira Pharmaceuticals stock climbed $5.97, or 28 percent, to $27.11.” (source: CNBC)
5. Media Blackout
Ebola is an unpredictably devastating and morbidly interesting topic, so a lot of air time gets dedicated to its current developments. It might push equally important, but less popular topics out of the media spotlight.
On September 24th, shortly before the news of the first U.S. Ebola case broke international news, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2178, which was extensively criticized for being an unprecedented, mandatory obligation on all states of the world to act in specific way to combat terrorism:
“Resolution 2178 […] acts more like international legislation. It will likely set the international agenda for counterterrorism law and policy for the next decade. Unfortunately, it sets a flawed agenda that is unlikely to make us safer but is likely to make us less free.” (source: The Globe and Mail)
Sources and Further Reading
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