Last August the news at first sounded almost miraculous.
Two American health workers in Liberia, West Africa, had become infected with the viral disease Ebola, roughly half of whose victims die from internal bleeding.
Both recovered, however, after taking a new experimental drug called ZMapp, a mixture of three different monoclonal antibodies that bind to the protein of the Ebola virus.
This drug had been produced in tobacco leaves at a Kentucky facility owned by cigarette giant Reynolds American.
Before the world could celebrate this potential cure for a terrifying, highly lethal contagious disease, however, the Centers for Disease Control — CDC — put out an August 29 press release.
"At this time, very few courses of this experimental treatment have been manufactured," wrote the CDC. "The manufacturer has indicated that the available doses have been distributed."
The New York Times on Oct. 2 reported that tiny Mapp Biopharmaceutical in San Diego had produced "only enough ZMapp for seven patients, two of whom subsequently died."
"The manufacturer reports that there is a very limited supply," the CDC had written in August, "so it cannot be purchased and is not available for general use. The manufacturer has been planning for phase 1 clinical trials and does not have the capacity to manufacture large quantities of the treatment."
A World Health Organization — WHO — statement noted that "existing supplies of all experimental [Ebola] medicines are either extremely limited or exhausted. While many efforts are under way to accelerate production, supplies will not be augmented for several months to come. Even then, supplies will be too small to have a significant impact on the outbreak."
"I don't think that there could be any fair distribution of something that exists in such a small quantity," said WHO Assistant Director General Marie-Paule Kieny.
A key ethical question: With sizable quantities of ZMapp at least months away, who should be first in line to receive this scarce potentially lifesaving elixir?
Most would agree that enough should be stockpiled to protect America's ruling elite from what might become a fast-spreading lethal Ebola plague here.
This would mean setting aside enough to save the lives of those in the legal chain of succession — President Barack Obama, then — in order — Vice President Joe Biden, Speaker of the House John Boehner, President Pro Tempore of the Senate Patrick Leahy, Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jacob "Jack" Lew, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, and Attorney General Eric Holder.
Number 8 in succession would normally be Interior Secretary Sally Jewell — but having been born in the United Kingdom, she is not constitutionally qualified to be president. Other cabinet secretaries fill out the list of what usually would be 18.
If President Obama has not yet requisitioned enough ZMapp Ebola treatments to protect the order of succession, he should do this as quickly as possible to safeguard the stability of our government. He should immediately reassure the American people that he prudently has taken this vital precaution.
According to the CDC, the U.S. government was involved in the development of ZMapp — "specifically, the NIH's (National Institutes of Health) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Department of Defense's Defense Threat Reduction Agency, and the HHS's (Health and Human Services) Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA)."
American medicine's politicization raises another important ethical question: who else should government provide with this life-and-death Ebola treatment, hoarding it to protect them while thousands of men, women, and children are dying of Ebola in Africa — and perhaps soon here?
Should a privileged stash of this rare, precious medication be set aside for all congressional lawmakers? For the joint chiefs of staff? Supreme Court justices? State governors?
Beyond the official ruling elite, should government provide ZMapp for partisan political campaign operatives? Leaders of the two major political parties? Spouses, children, other family members, staff, and lovers of this politically privileged elite? Corporate heads? Millionaire campaign contributors, including partisan athletes, musicians, movie stars, journalists, and celebrities such as Oprah and Beyoncé?
Who will be given a seat on President Obama's ark?
President Obama should tell us specifically who is being favored in any political rationing of ZMapp in today's Ebola epidemic — and how these privileged likely survivors are being chosen.
Lowell Ponte is co-author, with Craig R. Smith, of "The Great Withdrawal"; "Crashing the Dollar: How to Survive a Global Currency Collapse"; "The Great Debasement: The 100-Year Dying of the Dollar and How to Get America's Money Back"; "The Inflation Deception: Six Ways Government Tricks Us . . . And Seven Ways to Stop It"; and "Re-Making Money: Ways to Restore America's Optimistic Golden Age." Read more reports from Lowell Ponte — Click Here Now.
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