Insiders Insight: Stealing blood from West Africa

Credit: EC/ECHO.

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Stolen blood

The export of thousands of samples of blood from the 2014-16 West African Ebola outbreak has raised significant ethical questions about who benefits from medical research.

In this case, the patients whose blood was collected and shipped to research facilities around the world were not consulted and their consent was never sought. It appears, according to a new piece in The Telegraph by investigative journalist and African Arguments contributor Emmanuel Freudenthal, that the governments of the countries that were fighting Ebola – Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea – were also largely kept in the dark.

Instead, researchers from countries including the US, UK, Germany and others, exported the samples abroad in a bid to conduct research into vaccines and treatments for the virus. While there are certainly scientific benefits if cures are discovered using these samples, there are likely also monetary gains – and now questions about who should share in them.

Some of the countries have written to the laboratories to reassert their ownership of the samples – and any research that they generate. But The Telegraph reports that some of the labs are unresponsive and overall engagement on the issue is limited.

Why this matters

This situation raises obvious questions about the ethics of extracting blood samples and then using them for research without even attempting to seek permission from the patients themselves, or their government representatives, at the very least. And while some ethicists argued that the public good that could emerge from a vaccine or cure outweighed researcher responsibilities to any of the patients, it reinforces a perception that patients – and particularly patients in the developed world – don’t have any rights.

Many of the patients Freudenthal spoke to agreed they would have allowed researchers to use the samples had anyone bothered to ask. And researchers in the African countries also underscored the question of why none of the laboratories bothered, at the very least, to integrate them into the research being conducted on the back of the suffering in their country.

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Author : Insiders’ Newsletter

Publish date : 2019-02-12 16:49:23

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