Private Profit Trumps Public Health in Research for Ebola Vaccine
As the death toll from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa tops 4,500 including 236 health workers, the World Health Organization admitted that it failed to organize an effective response to the deadly virus. The international agency blamed factors ranging from internal politics to poor communication between infectious disease experts and officials at its U.N. headquarters. The WHO has projected that by Dec. 1, the number of new Ebola cases in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone would be 5,000 to 10,000 per week, making the 2014 outbreak of the disease the largest in world history.
In the U.S., President Barack Obama appointed a White House czar to organize the nation’s Ebola preparedness, as the spread of the disease has thus far been limited two nurses that treated Thomas Duncan who died of the virus in a Dallas hospital on Oct. 8. In advance of the U.S. mid-term elections on Nov. 4, a number of U.S. politicians have called for a ban on travel to and from the three West African nations where the Ebola outbreak is centered, this despite warnings from public health experts who warn that such restrictions would hamper efforts to stop the spread of the virus.
One important question about the international response to Ebola has largely been unaddressed: Why is it that the world doesn’t yet have an Ebola vaccine, despite the fact that this virus has been known to science since its emergence in South Sudan in 1976? Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Leigh Phillips, a widely published science writer, who examined this question in his article titled, “The Political Economy of Ebola,” where he discusses the incompatibility between public health and private profit.
Read Leigh Phillips’ article at “The Political Economy of Ebola,” Jacobin, Aug. 13, 2014.
- “Ebolanomics,” New York, Aug. 25, 2014
- “Ebola: between public health and private profit,” Open Democracy, Aug. 11, 2014
- “UN Health Agency Admits Mistakes, While US Ramps Up Ebola Response,” Common Dreams, Oct. 17, 2014
- “2014 Ebola Outbreak in West Africa,” CDC, Oct. 20, 2014
- “Could Ebola rank among the deadliest communicable diseases?” CBC, Oct. 20, 2014
- “Ebola death toll rises to 4,546 in hardest-hit countries: WHO,” Reuters, Oct. 17, 2014
New Study Links Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining Dust to Lung Cancer
There’s lots of news from southern Appalachia on the fight against mountaintop removal coal mining. On Oct. 1, federal judge Amy Jackson Berman upheld the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency – the EPA – to withdraw a previously issued mountaintop removal mining permit for Arch Coal’s Spruce No. 1 mine, because the company’s operations violated the Clean Water Act.
Then a report from the U.S. Geological Survey confirmed elevated levels of mountaintop removal airborne toxic dust in mining communities. The report found that the dust comes from mountaintop removal operations and not from other sources. Residents living in these areas have higher rates of several serious illnesses associated with this type of dust exposure. Also, on Oct. 9, a lab technician who is certified by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, recently admitted to falsifying reports for coal companies’ water quality tests. A federal investigation is ongoing.
Despite gathering evidence about the environmental harm and danger to human health caused by mountaintop removal mining, West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection has given out 25 new mining permits over the last two years as companies attempt to work around Clean Water Act restrictions. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Vernon Haltom, director of Coal River Mountain Watch in West Virginia, who discusses some of these recent developments which bolster the case against mountaintop removal mining.
VERNON HALTOM: Last week, the U.S. Geological Survey released a new report – the first one from a U.S.government agency – identifying MTR dust in communities at elevated levels, and it’s the kind of dust known to cause lung and heart problems. And just yesterday, we found out there’s another new study from mostly folks at West Virginia University School of Public Health regarding MTR dust and a direct link to human lung cancer. The dots are connected so strongly. This is the first one that makes that direct connection as showing cause rather than just correlation. It’s big news; it’s kind of depressing because now we have this lab experiment that shows that yes, what we’ve been breathing does promote lung cancer, and that’s unsettling.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Showing causation rather than just correlation is really important. But you had indications before about the health impacts of MTR, right?
VERNON HALTOM: That’s right; we’ve had statistical evidence that even after accounting for factors like socio-economic status and things like that, the cancer rates, heart disease rates, birth defect rates and other things – mortality, depression – all those things are higher in MTR areas, and that’s after taking into account those other factors. This is the first one that actually links the MTR dust to cancer. I consider it a landmark study, and one of the scientists, Dr. Michael Hendryx, says it’s one of the most important ones so far.
What are we going to do about it? The report calls for “prudent adoption of prevention strategies and exposure control.” So we’re thinking what kind of prevention strategies and exposure control can we do? I mean, can we live in a bubble? Do we have to evacuate? Do we all get respirators? Or, do we fight it? Do we end it? And we have a way of doing that – the ACHE Act, the Appalachian Community Health Emergency Act. ACHE Act, HR 526, is the way we see would be a good and swift end to MTR and protect human health. It would place a moratorium on new or enlarged MTR sites, unless and until the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducts and publishes a thorough, definitive study showing that this does not harm our health. The way that it would work is the moratorium would go in place immediately. And then if the study shows there’s no evidence that it harms human health, then they could go about getting permits again. In the meantime, we would have that pause, and we see it as an example of the precautionary principle: you know, you don’t do something to people unless you know it’s relatively safe.
BETWEEN THE LINES: There was another development recently that made a pretty big splash. A judge ruled that the EPA – the Environmental Protection Agency – could revoke a permit it previously granted to the Spruce Number 1 MTR site because the company was violating the Clean Water Act. I know the coal industry and a lot of politicians in Coal Country thought that was pretty outrageous.
VERNON HALTOM: The EPA, when they see that something is violating the law, they can withdraw a permit. There’s a lot of hoopla about this particular site, and even friends of mine thought that MTR was banned, or that the EPA had ended any new MTR permits, and that’s nowhere near the case. Even at Spruce #1, there’s still a large portion of that that is still being mined as of this day. That particular case only protected a couple of streams. The latest court victory saying the EPA does have the right to retroactively veto an MTR permit, is important, it’s significant, but it’s not the end of MTR. And the EPA has shown no indication that they’re going to veto any other permits.
Find more information on Coal River Mountain Watch in West Virginia at crmw.net.
- “Federal judge upholds EPA’s retroactive revocation of permit for W.Va. mountaintop mine,” Daily Journal, Oct. 1, 2014
- “Lab Official Admits Faking Coal Water Quality Reports,” West Virginia Gazette, Oct. 9, 2014
- “Study links mountaintop removal dust to cancer,” West Virginia Gazette, Oct. 16, 2014
- “Appalachian Mountaintop Mining Particulate Matter Induces Neoplastic Transformation of Human Bronchial Epithelial Cells and Promotes Tumor Formation,” ACS Publications, Oct. 14, 2014
- “Study Ties Mountaintop Removal Mining Dust to Increased Risk of Lung Cancer,” Think Progress, Oct. 17, 2014
- “Federal Court Upholds EPA Veto of Spruce Mountaintop Removal Mine,” Earth Justice, Sept. 30, 2014
- “Major Victory at Spruce Mountaintop Removal Mine,” Sierra Club, Sept. 30, 2014
New Book Chronicles 50 Years of Covert U.S-Cuba Relations and Current Opportunity for Normalization
Hostility between the United States and Cuba has been a central feature of the Cold War years – and well beyond. In fact, the U.S. diplomatic isolation and economic embargo against Cuba continues, long after Washington normalized relations with both Communist China and Vietnam, a nation against which the U.S. prosecuted a failed 10-year war costing more than 58,000 lives.
But a new book, “Back Channel To Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana,” reveals that behind the scenes, the U.S. and Cuban governments maintained secret communications, often via covert intermediaries, that included dialogue and negotiations on a range of issues, including repeated efforts to improve relations. One previously unknown potential crisis point described in the book, were plans for an all-out U.S. war against Cuba initiated in 1976 by then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who was outraged that Fidel Castro deployed Cuban troops to Angola in the mid 1970s to defend the African nation against CIA and South African sponsored rebels.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive and co-author with William LeoGrande of the new book, “Back Channel to Cuba.” Here, Kornbluh talks about the 50 years of covert negotiations between the U.S. and Cuba and his view that the time is now right for normalizing diplomatic relations between the two nations.
Learn more about the National Security Archive by visiting www2.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv.
- “Kissinger Considered Attack on Cuba Following Angola Incursion,” The National Security Archive, Oct. 1, 2014
- “Obama Should End the Embargo on Cuba,” New York Times, Oct. 12, 2014
- “That which can never be forgotten,” Oct. 11, 2014
- “Cuba’s Impressive Role on Ebola,” New York Times, Oct. 20, 2014
- “Kissinger drew up plans to attack Cuba, records show,” New York Times, Sept. 30, 2014
- “Six lessons for Obama on how to improve relations with Cuba,” The Nation, Sept. 30, 2014
This week’s summary of under-reported news
Compiled by Bob Nixon
- Forty years after the end of U.S. wars in Southeast Asia, the Obama administration is easing up on the U.S. ban on sales of lethal weapons to Vietnam. (“US eases ban on lethal arms sales to Vietnam,” The Associated Press, Oct. 3, 2014; “Courting Vietnam, U.S. prepares to ease arms embargo,” Reuters, Sept. 24, 2014; “Fixing the US misstep with Vietnam,” Human Rights Watch, Oct. 8 2014)
- Private Medicare Advantage plans for senior citizens are under growing scrutiny for aggressively using patient risk scores to boost reimbursement rates from Medicare. (“A call for more public scrutiny for private Medicare Advantage plans,” Center for Public Integrity, Oct. 15, 2014)
- The state of Arizona has settled a major prisoner lawsuit, agreeing to improve health care for inmates and reform solitary confinement rules for incarcerated individuals with mental illness. The agreement covers 33,000 inmates in Arizona state prisons. (“Arizona agrees to settle prison healthcare lawsuit,” The Associated Press, Oct. 14, 2014; “Prison healthcare settlement may add to Arizona deficit,” Arizona Republic, Oct. 14, 2014; “Arizona Agrees to major improvements in Prison health care…” ACLU, Oct. 14, 2014)