On K Street, Ebola lobbying is now a thing

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Ebola lobbying in Washington is spreading faster than the disease itself.

Nearly a dozen organizations — nonprofits and corporations — are now lobbying about the disease, with many focusing on the government’s efforts to stop the outbreak in West Africa and prevent it from entering the United States.

Healthcare is the primary target for Ebola lobbying so far, particularly by those companies developing a treatment or vaccine, as well as related groups wanting to be heard on the issue.

The Hill is reporting that an advocacy affiliate of the ONE Campaign, a non-profit that works on eliminating poverty and disease, is meeting with lawmakers on support and training of nurses and first responders in countries hit hardest by Ebola in West Africa, said executive director Tom Hart.

“There’s a huge gap between what’s needed and what’s there in terms of healthcare workers and infrastructure,” Hart told Hill reporter Megan Wilson.

Liberia, with only 50 doctors for a population of 3.5 million, has experienced more than 2,400 Ebola deaths one for every 900,000 residents.

Although doctors and healthcare workers are streaming into the country from around the world, care centers remain overwhelmed.

Several doctors and nurses in Liberia have contracted the virus; others quit out of fear of infection. Also dealing with the deadly Ebola virus are Sierra Leone and Guinea.

Since March, the outbreak has killed more than 4,500 people — the majority of deaths occurred in the three West African countries, according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Ebola has no known cure, and its death rate is about half of those infected. Pharmaceutical companies are quickly working to develop a vaccine or cure.

On lobbying disclosure forms, five drug makers or medical device companies mentioned Ebola, but few gave further details.

Some companies are advocating a boost in public health funding while others seek to raise awareness of their products through lobbying.

Zimek, which produces a disinfecting mister, hired the team at Dentons US for “discussions regarding preventing the spread of Ebola and other infectious diseases using Zimek’s infection control and biohazard remediation misting technology.”

Hemispherx Biopharma is working on an Ebola drug, making a statement on Monday that it entered a “strategic partnership” with the lobbying giant Squire Patton Boggs law firm.

Groups with established lobbyists are also currently working on the Ebola problem, Wilson writes.

BioCryst Pharmaceuticals, which has lobbying contracts with Bay Bridge Strategies and Peck Madigan Jones, is developing an anti-viral medication to treat Ebola, Marburg and other hemorrhagic viruses.

In a September statement, BioCryst announced it will get millions in federal grants from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for “accelerating the development of BCX4430 as a treatment for hemorrhagic fever viruses.”

Sarepta Therapeutics, represented by boutique shop Tarplin, Downs & Young, has developed an experimental Ebola drug that has had some successes in preliminary lab tests. The Pentagon awarded the company $200 million to fund the drug’s development, as well as other products manufactured by the company, before cutbacks by the Defense Department in 2012.

“We have been communicating to all of the government agencies, the World Health Organization,” said Chris Garabedian Sarepta’s CEO. “We’ve had people at the table at every substantive discussion around how to manage this Ebola outbreak and have educated everybody who’s interested in learning about our technology and the drug we have available.”

“Everybody knows we’re here. They know the drug we have, and we’re waiting for that call.”

Another medical diagnostic equipment manufacturer, Welch Allyn, supported by Akin Gump lobbyists, also reported Ebola funding lobbying.

All of this is part of the $1 billion committed by the U.S. to the global fight with Ebola in West Africa.

CDC and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budgets have shrunk in recent years, leading critics to claim it has exacerbated the Ebola crisis, making it difficult to get under control.

The CDC’s budget was $6.5 billion in 2010, falling to $5.8 billion as of fiscal 2014. At the same time, the NIH spent $30.6 billion, almost $1 billion less than its 2010 peak.

Republicans in Congress are saying the agencies have sufficient money, citing a significant increase in funds over the last two decades. As of 2010, the NIH’s budget was only $17 billion.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.