Tag Archive | "World Health Organization"

Doctors bring a suspected Ebola patient to an Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone.

What Ebola Means for West Africa and the World

*UPDATE: This article was written on August 27, 2014. As of October 3, 2014, the CDC estimates the number of people that have died from contracting ebola in the current outbreak has increased to 3,439, and the number of people sickened by ebola (as measured by laboratory confirmed cases) has increased to 4,108. Additionally, the countries now affected, including travel-related illnesses, are: Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Senegal, and the United States.

The Ebola virus is still raging on in West Africa, and showing no signs of slowing down. The current outbreak, which began in Guinea, has viciously spread to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nigeria. To date, it has killed an estimate of 1,427 people and sickened over 2,600. While this outbreak has had nowhere near the effect of other viruses such as AIDS or the flu, epidemics such as Ebola force affected countries and the world to face some serious facts about culture, health care, and our ever-evolving global society.

There has been aspirational talk from the World Health Organization (“WHO”) and other non-governmental organizations in helping the affected areas. Furthermore, multiple countries, including the United States, have pledged increased aid to Ebola-stricken countries. With any relatively unknown disease, however, support and aid has been slow to come. According to some, for example, the United States did not take the current epidemic seriously until two American aid workers contracted Ebola in Liberia. Furthermore, although efforts to develop an Ebola vaccine are underway, major pharmaceutical companies believe there is little profit in developing one. The virus has such a high mortality rate that researchers, in past outbreaks, have not deemed it necessary to create a vaccine, as the virus typically burned itself out in a short period of time. The lack of research and funding may also be due to the fact that Ebola has yet to show itself in a developed country.

Research and aid problems aside, the Ebola epidemic brings to the forefront many issues that have been known for years, but have been too difficult to address. Ebola has all but decimated West African cultural traditions and practices, or is at least on track to. Funeral practices in affected countries, for example, have been deemed one of the main factors leading to Ebola’s spread throughout the West African region. These practices involve “washing the body before it is buried,” meaning that relatives often come into contact with infected bodily fluids via the deceased, and further spread the disease. The WHO now recommends that well-trained personnel conduct funerals and burials and dispose diseased remains “in accordance with recognized international biosafety provisions,” much to the expected chagrin of family members.

Doctors bring a suspected Ebola patient to an Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone.

Doctors bring a suspected Ebola patient to an Ebola treatment center in Sierra Leone.
Image Source: ABC News

West African countries’ health care systems are also inadequate, and suffer from suspicion and stereotypes. Years of civil war and political strife all but destroyed most of these countries’ health case infrastructure. Moreover, this is the first time West Africa has experienced an Ebola outbreak, meaning that doctors and health personnel are highly untrained. For example, in Sierra Leone, there is only one laboratory even capable of testing for Ebola, which greatly slows response and awareness. The volunteers and non-governmental organizations haven’t fared much better in their attempts to bolster the failing health care; reports of attacks against Ebola isolation clinics due to fear and misinformation are widespread. Government response has also been severely lacking, or ineffective. Liberia has resorted to quarantine and curfew measures after a largely inadequate response by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government. This has prompted riots, food shortages, and even attacks on Ebola isolation centers.

Perhaps the most important consideration is that Ebola is not simply an African problem; it is an international one. Although some would consider headlines stating “Ebola only a plane ride away” to be fear mongering, this does not take away from their truth. Ignorance and lack of initiative have led to the spread of once unknown viruses before; think of AIDS, for example. North Americans once considered this simply an “African” disease. The ramifications of that rationale are still evident today. Thus, although infrastructures in developed countries are substantially more likely to deal with Ebola cases, it is in the international community’s best to help West African countries, and other developing nations, develop stronger health-care infrastructure and better responses to epidemics. Commentators correctly point out that “there are other diseases besides Ebola that can very quickly turn into a pandemic if they aren’t extinguished early enough.” Thus, providing aid and guidance now could have a big impact on the international community in the future.

Bailey Woods is a 4L law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and Candidacy Editor for the Denver Journal of International Law & Policy.

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real or fake pill

Critical Analysis: The Risk of Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals and How to Stem the Flow

Though the term is defined differently in different countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) has come up with a working definition of what constitutes a counterfeit drug in an effort to understand the global implications of counterfeit pharmaceuticals and to facilitate the exchange of information between countries regarding this issue.  An estimated 5% of world trade in branded products is counterfeit. Pharmaceuticals are an attractive product for counterfeiting for a variety of factors, the most problematic of which are the difficulty in detecting counterfeits, and lack of a global standard system of enforcement.

real or fake pill

The red pill shows you how deep the rabbit hole goes; the fake red pill will make you sick.

The pharmaceutical market is becoming more and more globalized. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that worldwide sales of counterfeit pharmaceuticals exceed $3.5 billion per year. An estimated 80 percent of the active ingredients used in U.S. drugs are made in other countries. 77% of active ingredients for medicines produced in China are exported, and India exports 75% of the active ingredients manufactured there. The problem is even worse in developing countries, where an estimated 25% of medicine sold in street markets is fake.

Though the U.S. pharmaceutical industry suffers $20 billion in financial losses annually due to counterfeit drug trade, the dangers of counterfeit drugs are more than economical. Counterfeit drugs can contain dangerous filler and/or substitute ingredients, contaminants, incorrect quantities of an active ingredient, or no active ingredients at all. In the U.S., negligent production at a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy sickened more than 600 people, killing 44, from September 2012 to January 2013. At least 62 people died in 2007 and 2008 after being given contaminated heparin, a blood thinner, made in China. Examples like this are frequent and extreme.

In 2006, the WHO created the International Medical Products Anti-Counterfeiting Taskforce (IMPACT).  This taskforce aims to foster collaboration between all levels of participants in the global pharmaceuticals market. One suggested method of stemming the flow of counterfeit drugs is the track and trace system. Countries have begun to implement track and trace legislation, or similar legislation to combat the counterfeit drug problem. Where there is no legislation in place, the flow of counterfeit drugs into and out of a country is unfettered, and there is no measure of how tainted the national market for pharmaceuticals may become.

In the U.S., The Drug Quality and Security Act was passed in November 2013, giving the FDA more power to regulate compounded drugs. It is estimated that by 2017, track and trace regulations will be in place that cover more than 70% of pharmaceuticals worldwide. In order for these regulations to be successful, they have to be implemented correctly.

Not only does legislation have to exist, it must deter criminal activity of this sort. Deterrence is nonexistent without adequate enforcement. Enforcement via government regulatory agencies is important, but pharmaceutical companies can contribute by better policing fraudulent use of registered trademarks. Medical professionals can help by staying up-to-date on their knowledge of medicines that have been counterfeited, learning which medicines are most likely to be counterfeited, and by reporting any suspect packaging, labeling, and patient complaints about prescription medicines. Consumers can help by refraining from generating demand for counterfeit drugs by obtaining their prescription pharmaceuticals legitimately. If consumers purchase prescription medications online, they should purchase from Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS). In order for any of these behaviors to be effective, there must be cooperation between participants in the pharmaceutical market. All levels must work together to implement and maintain a solution to this very urgent and dangerous problem.


Katelynn Merkin is a 2L and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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University of Denver Sturm College of Law

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