By News

When an emergency arises in Africa or elsewhere in the Black world, our vulnerability to those who provide care for us surfaces alongside the threat to life that must be responded to.

Such vulnerability should lead to questions about who is providing the care and the service, their agenda and whether we are truly being served. Such questions about methods or motives are often disregarded as “conspiracy theories” and paranoia despite a history of medical malpractice and genocide against us.

But questions about motives and methods have arisen again as West Africa copes with the deadly Ebola virus, a virus which has been a favorite subject for study and funding by the U.S. Department of Defense.


The questions come not from a wild-eyed radical but from the mainstream UK-based Guardian newspaper. The Guardian reported in December that British health workers left two centers in Sierra Leone over use of an unapproved drug on patients and a procedure the health workers felt put them at risk.

Fourteen staffers at the Lakka center in Freetown left over use of amiodarone, a heart drug, on patients. The drug has never been tested on humans or animals for treatment of the deadly Ebola virus.

The Guardian reported on the experimental regimen at a treatment center run by Emergency, an Italian organization that is supposed to bring “world-class cardiac surgery to some of the poorest parts of Africa.” The trouble is use of the unauthorized and untested treatment may have upped death rates at the Lakka center when compared to other centers. Emergency reportedly no longer uses the drug, amiodarone, and denies a higher death rate at their center than other places providing care.

“At the Lakka centre, patients were given large numbers of drugs, including amiodarone, through tubes inserted in the veins known as cannulae. The medics alleged that this caused complications and that the frequent use of needles put staff at risk. Two doctors at the Lakka centre have been infected with Ebola. A Ugandan paediatrician tested positive in early October and was flown to Germany for treatment. A second doctor was admitted to a hospital in Italy on November 25,” the Guardian reported. The drug treatments for Ebola started after publication of a paper in Germany saying the drug might be helpful in keeping Ebola from entering cells. But the paper was based on lab work alone.

The Guardian added “no trial had been done in animals or humans to investigate possible detrimental effects on people with liver, kidney or breathing problems, which are common with Ebola.”

Some health workers worried the experimental use of the drug and its side effects were tied to increased patient deaths. “Given that the mortality rate in the Lakka ETC is around 67% despite aggressive intervention, and that there seemed to be a high rate of otherwise unexplained respiratory distress, it would appear that there may be an aspect of this intensive therapy which may be having a detrimental effect,” the Guardian said. A representative for Emergency denied higher numbers of deaths, saying the death rate was 58 percent to 60 percent of patients. Doctors Without Borders, which does not use the same type of treatment, reported “a mortality rate of between 50% and 60% at its centres,” the Guardian said.

“The UK team was concerned that the drug was being given to a very different sort of patient from those with irregular heartbeats in Europe. The Ebola patients had severely deranged liver function and electrolytes, they said, and the drug was being used without appropriate monitoring or patient consent,” the Guardian noted. “The British volunteers were also concerned about the use of diuretics–drugs to increase urination–in patients with kidney failure as a result of the virus. Ebola patients suffer from severe dehydration.”

Emergency called those concerns unfounded, but the British government asked that the controversial, unproven treatments cease.

“When rumours circulated early-on during the Ebola outbreak, that the virus was a form of bio warfare, critics were quick to label these ideas ‘conspiracy theories,’ ” wrote Robtel Pailey, a Liberian academic, activist and author at the University of London in a piece published online by Al-Jazeera.

“Yet, fears about western medicine being used to harm are neither irrational nor far-fetched. As unconscionable as Emergency’s practices appear, there is a long history of unethical drug testing on poor and vulnerable communities across the globe,” he noted. He also called for punishing those who engage in unethical drug testing and Liberia is another West African nation at the epicenter of the Ebola crisis.

The first instances writer Paley uses to show reasons for concern aren’t from Africa or Europe but from the United States and medical dastardly deeds conducted by America’s Public Health Service in Guatemala.

There was “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male,” which began in 1932 and allowed the suffering and death of Black men, and spreading of the disease over a 40-year federal experiment. There was a cure for syphilis at the time. “In 1973, a class action suit was filed on behalf of the men in the study and settled out of court for $9 million,” Mr. Paley noted.

But there was a South American counterpart to the Tuskegee Experiment in “Guatemala from 1946 to 1948, when Public Health Service infected 1,610 total soldiers, female commercial sex workers, prisoners and mental health patients with one of three sexually transmitted diseases–syphilis, gonorrhoea, or chancroid,” he said.

“Like the Tuskegee experiment, none of the human subjects were informed about the nature of the study, nor did they give consent. Unlike the Tuskegee study, however, patients in Guatemala were eventually inoculated with penicillin though it is unclear how many were actually cured.”

But the medical horrors aren’t limited to 40 or 50 years ago: “In the mid-nineties, the world’s largest research-based drug company, Pfizer, administered the experimental drug, Trovan, during a meningitis outbreak in Kano in northern Nigeria. The parents of eleven children who died sued Pfizer, alleging that Trovan was used without their informed consent. Pfizer eventually settled out of court in 2009, promising to pay the Kano state government $75 million,” wrote Mr. Paley.

Then there was Global Information Network reporting of anger in Sierra Leone over Brits “living the life of Riley,” instead of saving lives. The Brits denied the charges. But a “New York Times reporter found spanking new clinics with no patients, 60 out of 80 beds unused at the brand new Kerry Town Ebola clinic run by Save the Children, ambulances with no patients in them, and treatment centers with survivors held over in the clinics in order to take part in a huge goodbye photo op,” the Global Information Network reported.

Despite all the evil perpetrated against us and the millions of lives lost to those who hate and exploit us, we refuse to question what is done to us in the name of helping us. Despite the warnings of the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, patriarch of the Nation of Islam, and his minister, Louis Farrakhan, we trust and we suffer. We don’t ask and we die. If self-preservation is the first law of nature, our refusal to simply ask questions shows how deeply self-hatred goes and how badly we need to accept divine guidance. All we have to lose is our lives.