Capitalists shelved Ebola vaccine, while Cuba provides heroic care

Capitalists shelved Ebola vaccine, while Cuba provides heroic care

The spreading Ebola epidemic has come home to roost as yet another person has tested positive for the virus. This time it’s in densely populated New York City. One of the health care heroes of the fight to curtail the spread of Ebola, a physician, who works at New York Presbyterian Hospital, is now in isolation at Bellevue Hospital. This doctor had recently returned to the U.S. after treating Ebola patients in West Africa.

At the same time, the World Health Organization has warned that the infectious disease is spreading through West Africa faster than it can be contained.

Behind the suffering of the people, especially in West Africa, and the sacrifice on the part of those who are fighting to give comfort and care to those who are sick, an almost unbelievable scandal, a great crime against humanity, is being seen by millions of people everywhere. The U.S. government has totally turned its back on the people in West Africa and in the U.S., and has thus failed to meet and handle this crisis. The result is a spiraling epidemic that is out of control.

The root cause of the current disaster is a system based upon profits, where a vast accumulation of wealth for a tiny group of elite billionaires drives everything, including the current discriminatory and failed U.S. health care model.

Promising vaccine ignored

It was revealed on Oct. 23 in The New York Times that a vaccine had been developed years ago that was 100 percent effective in animal testing and ready for clinical trials for humans. At that time, the researchers said that a vaccine to protect people from the Ebola virus could be ready by 2011.

But it never happened and was ignored by big business. The big pharmaceuticals, it is well known, rake in billions in profits every year. These giant entities, huge maximizers of profits, were unwilling to spend the funds needed to develop a vaccine which, at the time, had infected several hundred people in West Africa.

Unless a potential medication can turn a huge profit, it is not pursued by Big Pharma. In the “free market” world of U.S. capitalism, no government agency has the authority to require development of a vaccine or treatment for any disease, no matter how foreboding the possibilities might be of spreading into a full-blown pandemic. Everything, even health care, is market driven.

The crisis could have been averted. If funds had been allocated for preparation of inevitable global epidemics, and vaccines and treatment medications had been put at the top of the priority list for public health, if the necessary clinics and hospitals had been built in West Africa, the spread of the disease that has already killed almost 5,000 people, with thousands more infected, could have been prevented. Therein lies the crime.

The class line: Nurses and health care workers fight back

Unlike the hospitals and health care companies in the U.S., health care workers and others through their unions and organizations stand prepared to fight for adequate protection and training. Over 11,500 nurses from all over the U.S. and the world participated in a mass conference call organized by one of the largest nurses’ unions, National Nurses United, on Oct. 15, where RNs testified about the deplorable conditions they are facing in their hospitals, and where strong demands were made for President Obama to take control of the situation.

Since that meeting, an on-line petition is gaining thousands of signatures demanding that health care workers be provided with full-body protection suits, and stipulating that these and other kinds of equipment are necessary and that hospitals should not be given the loophole option of using scaled-down kits just because they are cheaper.

The demands include that all equipment meet American Society for Testing Materials standards for blood and viral penetration, powered air purifying respirators, and that no skin be left unprotected. In a statement from NNU, the union is demanding that all the necessary equipment be provided to every hospital, and that “continuous hands-on training for all RNs and other frontline caregivers be provided with practice sessions and drills, in teams, of the proper means for putting on, and especially, removing the equipment after use.”

RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of NNU, has stated, “Everyone should love and appreciate the fact that our nurses are willing to care for the most deadly disease that we’ve encountered, and all they’re asking for is training, preparation and the right equipment.”

The union is asking the public to sign the NNU petition and to ask colleagues, family and friends to go online to sign it now.

The Cuban intervention

While the handwriting on the wall clearly shows the major failures of the U.S. power structures to deal with the epidemic, socialist Cuba stands out in stark contrast to the failures of the U.S. Cuba has shown the world the superiority of socialist organization where health care is at the service of the all the workers of Cuba, where each person has access to free quality health care.

A strikingly different situation this time is that even the leading capitalist newspapers, so thoroughly mouthpieces of the U.S. ruling class, have gone out of their way to cite the exemplary intervention of Cuban doctors and other Cuban health care workers.

In a front page story on Oct. 9, the Wall Street Journal surprisingly heralded the Cuban effort in West Africa with the headline “Cuban Doctors and the Forefront of Ebola Battle in Africa: Island Nation Outpaces Larger Countries.”

The article describes in detail the significance of Cuba’s intervention, stating that while many are calling for nations to dispatch medical personnel, “Few have heeded the call, but one country has responded in strength: Cuba. It has sent 165 health workers to hard-hit Sierra Leone, a disproportionately large number for a tiny island nation of 11 million people.”

As if not to be outdone, on Oct. 19 The New York Times editorial page included strong words of praise for Cuba, stating, “Cuba stands to play the most robust role among the nations seeking to contain the virus.”

In a statement Oct. 18, Fidel Castro praised the Cuban delegation to Sierra Leone:  “The medical staff that is ready to go to any region to save lives, even at the risk of losing their own, is the best example of solidarity that human beings can offer, particularly if they are not moved by any material interest. Their closest relatives are also contributing to that mission a part of what they love and admire the most. A country seasoned by long years of struggle can fully understand what is being expressed here.”

Open praise for anything about socialist Cuba is a new development for U.S. newspapers who have always expressed total hostility to the socialist country. These papers, and the rest of the big business media have supported the brutal policies of the blockade of Cuba throughout its history. Why this is happening is anyone’s guess, but clearly the inability of the U.S. government to handle such a huge crisis exposes how far down the U.S. has gone with its system of profits, rendering the U.S. health care model as a dysfunctional and fractured system in free fall, that is beyond the control of anyone in the ruling circles to fix.

The mobilization of workers against the government’s criminal neglect of the safety and well-being of the people is an important turn of events, and presents an exciting possibility for the working class to mount a successful campaign against the denial of health care and the system that has profited for too long, while the rest of humanity is denied their basic rights to free quality health care, adequate nutrition, exercise, clean water, and control of the wealth that the workers produce.

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