Mike Niman on capitalism and contagion

Professor Mike Niman’s new column ripples with that combination of pessimism and winsomeness that has long characterized his philosophical and prose styles. An brief excerpt:

Medical research is expensive and usually driven by private investment, which is drawn to profit, not service. Hence, while Malaria continued to devastate the third world, and Ebola lay in hiding like a time bomb, the medical industry mostly ignored both, putting money into more profitable pursuits such as developing erectile dysfunction drugs for octogenarians.

With corporate research money heading toward more profitable products, fighting diseases like Ebola is left to the public sector. Across Africa, where colonialism plundered resources and neo-liberalism saddled governments with structural debt, the public sector isn’t too robust, often unable to provide basic infrastructure for potable water or education. Developing an advanced medical research sector ain’t happening. This leaves the continent at the mercy of American and European philanthropy, which often seems drawn more to sexier or trending causes, like saving wildlife or hating the eminently hateable Joseph Kony.

First world apathy toward Ebola continued even as the current epidemic unfolded over the last six months, eventually spreading to seven counties, with Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea hit the hardest. A month ago, the World Health Organization’s Assistant Director, General Bruce Aylward, declared that the Ebola epidemic has become a health crisis “unparalleled in modern times.” That means, since the Black Death ravaged Europe and the holocaust of European diseases decimated native America.

Aylward asked for one billion dollars to combat the epidemic. To put this number in perspective, that’s $400 million less than Fracking magnate and uber sports fan Terry Pegula paid last week to buy the Buffalo Bills.

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