Dear Readers and Friends: August edition out , Aug 17 2018

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Ebola! Was the virus created in American laboratories?

Okot Nyormoi

 

Whenever humans encounter medical disasters of epic proportions such as the black plague in Europe or the current Ebola epidemic ravaging West Africa, they feel helpless and are driven to ask questions about the origin, timing, location and why of the disaster. In the absence of acceptable explanations of the Ebola epidemic, many people have alleged that the virus was created in the laboratory by US scientists as a bio-weapon to kill Africans and for financial gain for pharmaceutical companies

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Some people swear to the veracity of the allegation whereas others swear to its absolute falsehood. Why is Ebola alleged to have been created by the US but not by Russia, Japan, Germany or Israel? Is the allegation true? To address these questions requires a brief review of the history of scientific experimentation on humans.

That science has done many great things for humanity is well known. However, the history of science is also punctuated by some ugly human experimentation. Many of the diabolical experiments occurred during the period when scientific knowledge was still rudimentary and scientific research was not regulated. Even after ethical guidelines for human experimentation were created (Nuremburg Code 1948, Declaration of Helsinki 1964, Belmont Report 1979), some unscrupulous individuals or institutions driven by the pursuit of fame and fortune still continue to conduct unethical experiments by deception or mistake.

Eugenics, a social philosophy that believes in improving human quality through selective breeding, was started in the late 19th century in England. It was implemented by forced sterilization, abortion and killing of persons with “undesirable” traits. In contrast, people with “desirable” traits were forced to breed. Hitler took eugenics to a new height during World War II. The Jewish holocaust is a sad reminder. The practice failed to eliminate the so-called undesirables because of the complex ways in which traits are inherited and are influenced by the environment.

The infamous 1932-1972 Tuskegee study in which the US government deceptively used hundreds of rural black men as guinea pigs for studying syphilis without treating them is another dark reminder of the horror of human experimentation. Sometimes good intentions mislead scientists to undertake unethical experiments as one American doctor did when he deliberately infected Guatemalan prisoners and mental patients with syphilis without their consent in order to study the effect of the then new wonder drug, penicillin.

Knowledge of these and other unethical human experimentation makes people suspicious of the origin of terrible diseases such as Ebola. However, the allegation of laboratory origin of disease viruses should not be brandished about frivolously because they can have deadly consequences. In the raging Ebola epidemic in West Africa, many healthcare workers were killed and injured in Sierra Leone allegedly because they were rumored to be spreading the disease.

The proponents of the laboratory origin of Ebola abound in the offbeat news outlets and organizations including radio, blogs, You Tube, print media and TV. Some of them pass themselves off as whistle blowers and they blissfully take advantage of the publicity to win more TV viewers, radio listeners or newspaper and book readers while others maliciously use the occasion to disinform people without feeling any shame about it.

The allegations appear to originate mostly from one source, the Strecker Memorandum in which Dr. Strecker aggressively promoted the so-called World Health Organization (WHO) theory of the origin of HIV. He alleged that WHO in collaboration with the US Defense Department and Russian scientists created the AIDS virus as a bio-weapon for a genocidal elimination of black people and homosexuals. The vehicles they allegedly used were small pox and polio vaccines in Africa and hepatitis virus vaccine in homosexuals.

The incredulity of this claim led Dr. Leonard G. Horowitz to look for evidence of the claim. The outcome was the publication of a book entitled, Emerging Viruses: AIDS & Ebola: Nature, Accident or Intentional. The so-called smoking gun evidence he found includes accusation of the US by Russian, Cuban and Mexican scientists of creating HIV for the extermination of Africans. The apparent overlap of the time and location of the vaccination programs with the AID and Ebola epidemics was also cited as evidence. While people are justified in being suspicious, some of the accusations could have simply been cold war propaganda.

Other circumstantial evidence cited is the existence of a US bio-weapon research program, scientific publications and Congressional testimonies on genetic manipulation of viruses by scientists. Interestingly, other countries including Russia, Israel and Apartheid South Africa also had secret bio-weapon programs for defensive and offensive purposes. Unfortunately, since the nature of research for military or proprietary purposes is secretive, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find concrete evidence to show that the Ebola virus was manufactured by the US as a bio-weapon. Nevertheless, the lack of proof does not allay the people’s concerns of possible accidental or intentional release of such viruses into the population.

It should also be noted that dangerous biological agents existed in nature long before scientists developed the capability of altering the traits of viruses in the 1970s. Therefore, it is not necessary to invoke laboratory creation to explain the origin of Ebola.

In recognition of all the uncertainty of the evidence, Dr. Horowitz, the author most quoted by the conspiracy theorists, concluded in his book, Based on the mass of circumstantial and scientific evidence presented herein, the theory that emergent viruses like HIV and Ebola spontaneously evolve and naturally jump species from monkey to man must be seriously questioned.

Unfortunately, serious questioning by various experts so far has yielded nothing but more of the same, speculations about the origins of both HIV and Ebola virus. However, presently it is thought that the Ebola virus comes from wild animals, particularly fruit bats because the hereditary material (RNA) of Ebola virus is found in them. It is assumed that humans become infected with the virus when they are exposed to body fluids of infected fruit bats or other animals.

While conscientious scientists should continue to investigate the true origin of the Ebola virus, a distinction must be made between speculations and facts. Until someone presents incontrovertible evidence, we would not do service to humanity by peddling speculations as if they are the absolute truth