Coal giant exploited Ebola crisis for corporate gain, say health experts

Coal giant exploited Ebola crisis for corporate gain, say health experts

Public health experts involved in the response to the Ebola crisis have condemned what they described as a ludicrous, insulting and opportunistic attempt to exploit the disease for corporate gain by the world’s largest privately-held coal company.

As part of a PR offensive to rebrand coal as a “21st-century fuel” that can help solve global poverty, it has emerged that at the height of Ebola’s impact in Africa, Peabody Energy promoted its product as an answer to Africa’s devastating public health crisis.

Greg Boyce, the chief executive of Peabody, a US-based multinational with mining interests around the world, included a slide on Ebola and energy in a presentation to a coal industry conference in September last year. The slide suggested that more energy would have spurred the distribution of a hypothetical Ebola vaccine – citing as supporting evidence a University of Pennsylvania infectious disease expert.

The World Health Organisation believes nearly 27,000 people contracted Ebola in an outbreak of the virus in West Africa last year, and more than 11,000 died – although the international agency believes that is probably an underestimate.

Public health experts who were involved in fighting the spread of Ebola were outraged at Peabody’s suggestion that expanding energy access with coal generation could have hindered the spread of Ebola and helped with the distribution of a vaccine – especially as there is no approved vaccine against the disease.

Meanwhile, the medical expert cited by Peabody to support its claims told the Guardian he had never heard of the company – and that it had got his name wrong.

“There is no apparent merit or evidence to support such a thesis,” said Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia University’s National Centre for Disaster Preparedness, and an adviser to the White House on the US response to Ebola. “Peabody has very specific and explicit corporate goals. I think this is a pretty far fetched leap from a global crisis to try to justify the existence of a company that is interested in producing and selling coal.”

Redlener added: “I think it’s an opportunistic attempt and somewhat desperate to relate corporate self-interest to a massive public health crisis.”

 

Source: The Guardian

Date: September 2015

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