"We’re fighting a forest fire with spray bottles"

Ella Watson-Stryker, MSF health worker, during the Ebola epidemic, West Africa, 2014

Photograph by Anna Surinyach
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Why don’t our teams have the tools they need?

Pharmaceutical corporations neglect them as there is no money to be made.

"We’re sorry that we don’t have a medicine proven safe and effective to kill the Ebola virus. We’re sorry that we don’t have a vaccine. We’re sorry that we’ve failed to stop the epidemic. We're fighting a forest fire with spray bottles."

Ella Watson-Stryker
MSF health worker
Guinea

Pharmaceutical corporations’ top priority is making shareholders happy.

So, if a medicine, test or vaccine won’t earn big money or boost stock prices, it might not get made. No matter how badly it’s needed.

That’s why when Ella Watson-Stryker and her MSF colleagues faced the deadly 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, they were empty handed. They did not have the tools to treat people with this devastating disease, and the outbreak claimed more than 11,300 lives in six affected countries.

In fact, scientists had developed a promising experimental Ebola vaccine in 2002. But making better tools to use against Ebola wasn’t profitable enough for the pharmaceutical corporations to finalise the vaccine's development. So it didn’t happen.

During an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo declared in May 2018, MSF administered this trial Ebola vaccine to frontline healthcare workers and contacts of confirmed Ebola cases as part of the overall strategy to control the outbreak in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and WHO.

Three things to know about research and development

What MSF teams are saying

“If we want to see significantly improved treatment for people with TB, then we need to see drug research happening in a different way. If drug manufacturers collaborate from the outset and test new combinations of drugs, only then will we see the development of more and effective combination treatments for TB.”

Dr Isaac Chikwanha, Medical Adviser, MSF Access Campaign