‘Health care equity key to Ebola fight’: doctors, nurses petition Obama

Health Affairs Blog article highlights petition to President Obama from more than 1,400 health professionals who say Ebola epidemic is linked to global inequality – and that African nations will require sustained U.S. aid to build up their health systems

May 1, 2015

Ida Hellander, M.D., PNHP director of health policy, 312-782-6006,

The spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa is inextricably linked to “the global inequality that underlies the poverty and dysfunctional health systems” of the affected countries and points to the need for sustained U.S. economic assistance to help control the virus and to aid in the development of Africa’s health system infrastructure, according to an article published today at the Health Affairs Blog.

The article, titled “Health Care Equity Needed to Fight Ebola,” is written by three physicians – Dr. Andrea S. Christopher, David U. Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler. Dr. Christopher is an internist at Cambridge Health Alliance and a fellow in general internal medicine at Harvard Medical School; Drs. Himmelstein and Woolhandler are professors at the City University of New York School of Public Health at Hunter College and lecturers in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

The authors recap and expand upon the arguments contained in a petition that was sent to President Obama last month with 1,464 signatures from doctors, nurses, public health workers, educators and others in allied health professions.

After providing some historical background to the conditions that allowed Ebola to thrive in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea – including the decades-long practice of U.S. multinational corporations extracting valuable resources such as diamonds, rubber, iron ore and fertile soil from those nations without sharing the proceeds with the impoverished majorities of those countries – the authors call for several urgent remedial steps, two of which are as follows:

A commitment by the United States to provide $8.4 billion annually (the equivalent to a single day’s health expenditures in the U.S.) to Ebola prevention and treatment efforts in West Africa, and to build up the health infrastructure in Africa.

The establishment of a public pharmaceutical company to develop drugs and vaccines in the public interest, given that private drug companies “failed to pursue an urgently needed Ebola vaccine because it offered little prospect of financial gain.”

Coincidentally, their article appears on the heels of two prominent statements on the epidemic in the past few weeks, one by President Obama and the other by leaders of the World Health Organization, the latter also published at the Health Affairs Blog.

The text of the petition, which was circulated through physician email lists and which was hosted by Physicians for a National Health Program (but which was not its exclusive project), is available here: A PDF containing the petition text and the list of the signers as of April 7, 2015, is available to media professionals here or upon request from Dr. Ida Hellander at


Health Care Equity Needed to Fight Ebola,” Andrea S. Christopher, M.D., David U. Himmelstein, M.D., and Steffie Woolhandler, M.D., M.P.H. Health Affairs Blog, May 1, 2015.


Physicians for a National Health Program ( is a nonprofit, 19,000-member research and educational organization of doctors and medical students who support single-payer national health insurance. PNHP had no role in funding or otherwise supporting the article described above.