FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Business of Pandemics

In 2006, international health expert Richard Feachem told audiences at Cambridge University at a Darwin lecture that the world’s capacity to deal with pandemics was dangerously inadequate.  His interest then, as now, was combating various pandemics, many of which have slid into the background (malaria, HIV and AIDS).  At stages, Feachem has painted doomsday scenarios of catastrophic disease, one being a pandemic flu which might well kill between 100 or 300 million people.

So what are we to make of this strain of swine flu, designated swine influenza A (H1N1)?  The most important thing is that it might not be as dangerous as first thought, though details are still sketchy.  The response of the Ford administration to swine flu in 1976 gave an object lesson in what happens when one overreacts.  The entire episode was tragically comic, as it involved a complete misreading of what turned out to be a mild outbreak.  Less mild were the results of the flu vaccination program: nasty side effects including several deaths were reported (the causal links have been disputed), followed by subsequent lawsuits and the destruction of the vaccine.

The first inclination in all of this is grading the response.  Government report cards on the subject of fighting pandemics tends to be poor.  Defenses are often haphazard and inadequate.  Stumbling and bumbling often accompanies misunderstandings and heavy-handed responses.  To the fiascos of 1976 can be added the dark memories of efforts taken to combat SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which lead to brutal state measures against the infected.  The mask became a feature of global travel in 2003, despite evidence that the condition was less contagious than thought.  This did not stop countries from China, where it originated, to the US, from falling into a state of collective psychosis.

Prompt announcements informing the public, including the coordination of health services, are basic steps that might be initially taken.  While the Mexican authorities are seemingly holding the fort well at the moment, 850 cases had already existed by the time announcements were made.  The current figures stand at some 159 deaths, with 2,400 people infected.

Numbers of those who have contracted it in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are rapidly approaching a hundred (91 in 10 states).  A Mexican toddler, who arrived with his parents on a visit, has died from it.  Three have been found in Germany; four in Spain; five in Britain.  Far-flung New Zealand has also had its sufferers.  Dr. Keiji Fukuda, assistant director general of the World Health Organization is not necessarily giving us any more clues on its seriousness, resorting to the organization’s scale of emergency.  Apparently, ‘we are not there yet’ in terms of pandemic levels, with ‘6’ being the most serious marker, and ‘5’ (‘human-to-human spread of the virus into at least two countries in one WHO region’) being the current category.

There is no sense of gripping hysteria as yet, but many venues for public gatherings (schools, gyms, restaurants, movie theatres), most notably in Mexico City, have been or are being closed.  Some of these measures might prove needless and even ineffective.  Even organizations such as the WHO have argued that some restrictions, such as those on travel, fall into the latter category.

This has not prevented several countries from considering travel bans, which will have the effect of estranging Mexico.  Cuba and Argentina have banned flights to the country.  The French health minister Roselyne Bachelot has called for the suspension of all flights leaving the European Union heading that way.  She will be putting her case to colleagues in Luxembourg on Thursday.

Others are fairly nonplussed by the whole business, most notably many in the country where the flu was first noted.  Mexicans interviewed on the ‘World Have Your Say’ segment on the BBC World Service were simply bored, deprived of local amusements and distractions.  A caller was simply told do not bother traveling to Mexico City at this time, less because of a lethal disease than lack of entertainment.  ‘Don’t come to Mexico – you will be bored.’  The editors at the Gawker site have simply this to say.  ‘For the billion healthy kids in the Western hemisphere: you’re grounded.’

What is required, not merely with this pandemic, but with other conventional killers, is a global, coordinated effort that is effective yet restrained.  Swine flu is lethal, but so are numerous other infections that rage against human populations.  If nothing else, we might have swine flu to thank for galvanizing international efforts in combating potentially more serious pandemics.  Or we might just be left with a cure that is worse than the disease.

BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com
 

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

August 20, 2018
Carl Boggs
The Road to Disaster?
James Munson
“Not With a Bomb, But a Whimper” … Then More Bombs.
Jonathan Cook
Corbyn’s Labour Party is Being Made to Fail –By Design
Robert Fisk
A US Trade War With Turkey Over a Pastor? Don’t Believe It
Howard Lisnoff
The Mass Media’s Outrage at Trump: Why the Surprise?
Faisal Khan
A British Muslim’s Perspective on the Burkha Debate
Andrew Kahn
Inhumanity Above the Clouds
Dan Glazebrook
Trump’s New Financial War on the Global South
George Wuerthner
Why the Gallatin Range Deserves Protection
Ted Rall
Is Trump a Brand-New Weird Existential Threat? No.
Sheldon Richman
For the Love of Reason
Susie Day
Why Pundits Scare Me
Dean Baker
Does France’s Economy Need to Be Renewed?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Mighty Voice for Peace Has Gone Silent: Uri Avnery, 1923-2018
Weekend Edition
August 17, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Daniel Wolff
The Aretha Dialogue
Nick Pemberton
Donald Trump and the Rise of Patriotism 
Joseph Natoli
First Amendment Rights and the Court of Popular Opinion
Andrew Levine
Midterms 2018: What’s There to Hope For?
Robert Hunziker
Hothouse Earth
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Running Out of Fools
Ajamu Baraka
Opposing Bipartisan Warmongering is Defending Human Rights of the Poor and Working Class
Paul Street
Corporate Media: the Enemy of the People
David Macaray
Trump and the Sex Tape
CJ Hopkins
Where Have All the Nazis Gone?
Daniel Falcone
The Future of NATO: an Interview With Richard Falk
Cesar Chelala
The Historic Responsibility of the Catholic Church
Ron Jacobs
The Barbarism of US Immigration Policy
Kenneth Surin
In Shanghai
William Camacaro - Frederick B. Mills
The Military Option Against Venezuela in the “Year of the Americas”
Nancy Kurshan
The Whole World Was Watching: Chicago ’68, Revisited
Robert Fantina
Yemeni and Palestinian Children
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Orcas and Other-Than-Human Grief
Shoshana Fine – Thomas Lindemann
Migrants Deaths: European Democracies and the Right to Not Protect?
Paul Edwards
Totally Irrusianal
Thomas Knapp
Murphy’s Law: Big Tech Must Serve as Censorship Subcontractors
Mark Ashwill
More Demons Unleashed After Fulbright University Vietnam Official Drops Rhetorical Bombshells
Ralph Nader
Going Fundamental Eludes Congressional Progressives
Hans-Armin Ohlmann
My Longest Day: How World War II Ended for My Family
Matthew Funke
The Nordic Countries Aren’t Socialist
Daniel Warner
Tiger Woods, Donald Trump and Crime and Punishment
Dave Lindorff
Mainstream Media Hypocrisy on Display
Jeff Cohen
Democrats Gather in Chicago: Elite Party or Party of the People?
Victor Grossman
Stand Up With New Hope in Germany?
Christopher Brauchli
A Family Affair
Jill Richardson
Profiting From Poison
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail