By Renee HoDecember 24, 2015

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The global response to Ebola in late 2014 is described by a leading DC-based think-tank as a “$5 billion scramble.”

When I first read this word “scramble”, I couldn’t help but think of the “Scramble for Africa,” the period of 1876-1914 when European powers rushed to colonize Africa and extract its resources.

I know the author meant that the response was hectic and uncoordinated. But like the Scramble for Africa, the Ebola scramble seemed to demonstrate an all too familiar power dynamic, one in which the negation of voices from Africa—specifically in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone—was and continues to be acceptable.

Foreign countries helped the Ebola crises (however late and reluctantly) but more than that, they scrambled to extract a valuable resource—data.

Over 100,000 blood samples were taken from Ebola patients. Clinical data from over 30,000 patients.

Where did it all go? To the United States, primarily, but also to China, Russia, and several countries in Europe. In these countries, the data will be used for research but it’s uncertain if this research will align with the public health needs and priorities of the nations from which the biospecimens came.

Many Americans fancy themselves heroes in West Africa. And yet when asked to share the data they arguably stole, the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes for Health (NIH) are remarkably reticent.

Daniel Bausch, an Ebola advisor, argues that “…outbreak nations need to be the drivers of managing the samples, to ensure their availability in a reliable and responsible way that protects stakeholders, including the patients themselves, and ensures shared access to the information gained from the specimens.”

At Feedback Labs, we make the same argument that people need to be the drivers of decisions that affect their lives. They, after all, know their what they want best. Positive change happens when institutions are inclusive of the people they seek to help, not extractive.

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