(NaturalNews) According to the federal government, it had no significant involvement in assisting a pair of American aid workers in West Africa who had managed to obtain an unapproved drug to treat Ebola from a U.S. company, but the stories coming out of the relevant agencies are at best inconsistent.
That's according to Jonathan Easley, writing at the Morning Consult blog, who also said that experts noted that the "non-transparent, strained telling of the government's involvement, and the passive, anything-goes approach to treating the outbreak" in Africa, "is evidence the U.S. needs to review its experimental drug laws."
"They also say it's evidence the country is unprepared to deal with potentially more dangerous contagions at home or abroad," Easley wrote.
In late July, a couple of Americans working in Liberia -- Kent Brantley, a doctor with Samaritan's Purse, and Nancy Writebol, a missionary for a charitable group known as SIM -- became ill and were later diagnosed with Ebola. They were both treated with ZMapp, a highly experimental medication made by a very small company in San Diego, Mapp Biopharmaceutical, Inc. The drug was designed with the support of the U.S. military, says Easley, adding that it's "expensive, difficult to transport, exists only in a limited supply, and before [its] arrival in Liberia, had only been tested on a handful of monkeys."
Sounds like a popular movie a few years back, doesn't it?
'If they went this alone, their investors should be worried'
Brantley and Writebol arrived back in the U.S. in early August. Their return and steady improvement attracted a media frenzy, which in part forced the federal government to detail how the patients obtained the rare, early-stage drug while overseas.
But the government's explanation has at every point been murky, and at times, conflicted with the stories coming from the private companies involved. All three federal agencies --the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and National Institutes of Health (NIH) --say they played little or no role in the decision-making or drug procurement process.
Ford Vox, a physician at Atlanta's Shepherd Center hospital -- who has written critically about the government's Ebola response -- isn't buying into the government's tortured explanations.
"If [Mapp] did this on their own, they must have had unbelievable confidence in the product and lawyers who know this up and down," Vox said. "If they went this alone, their investors should be worried, because that's reckless. A team of scientists could get in a lot of trouble doing that, and I can't imagine they run their company that way, especially considering they have support from the Department of Defense."
As per the CDC, it was Samaritan's Purse, a private humanitarian organization employing Brantley, who contacted the agency in a bid to find an experimental Ebola drug. The CDC said it passed along the request to the National Institutes of Health, who in turn referred them to contacts within Mapp.
"This experimental treatment was arranged privately by Samaritan's Purse," the CDC said. "Samaritan's Purse contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), who referred them to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH was able to provide the organization with the appropriate contacts at the private company developing this treatment. The NIH was not involved with procuring, transporting, approving, or administering the experimental treatments."
Conflicting reports, conflicting statements
That version of events was first reported by The New York Times, Easley says, and the statement was later posted on the CDC's website, where it remains still.
But, says Easley:
The NIH told Morning Consult one of its scientists on the ground in West Africa approached the charit before the group had even decided to pursue an experimental alternative.
"The NIH scientist who was in West Africa referred Samaritan's Purse to company contacts because they were best equipped to answer questions about the status of their experimental treatment," the agency said in an email. "This occurred before Samaritan's Purse decided to pursue an experimental therapy."
Samaritan's Purse also released a statement that conflicts with the CDC's version, indicating that the NIH and perhaps other government health agencies may have also played a role in procuring the drugs.