Speaking before a gathering of African health ministers on Monday, the leader of the World Health Organization (WHO) said that the blame for the Ebola crisis lays largely on the “profit-driven” pharmaceutical industry, which does not invest in cures “for markets that cannot pay.”

WHO director-general Dr. Margaret Chan made the comments while speaking before the Regional Committee for Africa, made up of representatives from the 47 African nations, which is meeting this week in Cotonou, Republic of Benin.

During her address, Chan said that despite Africa’s recent economic and social gains, the Ebola outbreak bolsters two arguments that WHO has long made “that have fallen on deaf ears for decades [and] are now out there with consequences that all the world can see, every day, on prime-time TV news.”

One, she said, is the failure to put basic public health infrastructures in place. The second argument, Chan said, is the reason that clinicians are “still empty-handed, with no vaccines and no cure,” despite Ebola having emerged nearly four decades ago: “Because Ebola has historically been confined to poor African nations. The R&D incentive is virtually non-existent. A profit-driven industry does not invest in products for markets that cannot pay.”

“Without fundamental public health infrastructures in place, no resilience exists to withstand the shocks that our 21st century societies are delivering, whether from a changing climate or a runaway killer virus.”
—Dr. Margaret Chan, World Health Organization

Speaking before the group, Chan argued that this crisis should provide the assembled ministers with an incentive to seize their new health agenda on their own terms. The Committee is meeting to set new policies to guide WHO’s work in the region, including a strategic plan for immunization.

Africa, she continued, has “suffered from some bad development advice.”