That Swine Flu post

Monday, 4th May 2009 at 8:00 UTC 1 comment

I like to think I don’t always blog about the most hip, fashionable thing on the web, but once in a while, its necessary to get writing about the same thing as pretty nearly everyone else in Britain, or indeed, on Earth. So I shall try and pack as much into one post, even if that means mixing the irreverent with the actually amusing.

The problem with a new illness with “Pandemic Potential” is that the Western media will often over react. We’re not actually going to die, no matter how expedient it is for the commercially-minded editor to proclaim such a thing with a three-inch font size on the front page. The fact is, we (you and me, the owners of computers, probably living in western luxury) are not going to die.

Your neighbours probably won’t die unless they’re at the extreme ends of their lives, being under 5 or over 80 (“1st 5, last 5” for a snappier name). Many people will probably get this flu and go sick for a couple days and return to work. Unless of course, they’re American and low paid, in which case, they’ll get it, but due to having no mandatory sick pay allowance, they’ll keep working, and everyone around them will get it it too. And anyhow, anti-virals aren’t free you know!

Obviously, this is a problem confined to the undeveloped world. We can get all worried about it in the usual tabloid fear mongering way, and indulge whichever of the following we choose: delusions that this will wipe us out, self-righteous amusement at the Cops => Pigs => Swine Flu jokes, amuse ourselves at why a Muslim country like Egypt has 300,000 head of swine in the first place, think “thank God our pigs are kept in incubators and pumped full of drugs” and marvel at the uncivilised practices of having free roaming bacon anyhow, find amusement when an activist accidently announces the World Trade Organisation is managing the situation worldwide, or pretend the whole thing is the Zombie Apocalypse. And if you think that last one was a joke, you should try living in this house!

No, my friend, the death will happen overseas. A few dozen people max will die over here, but most will have been “vulnerable people”, family tragedies turned into major media opportunities but nothing more. The death will visit villages in foreign parts, where they don’t have a “proper health care service”. And it might kill a few asylum seekers, seeing as they probably won’t get the drugs, seeing as anyone giving them the drugs would be ineligible for government money and therefore unable to afford them anyway.

And of course, really, messing up on Facebook as I did, and saying that the WTO is in charge of this situation was more Freudian Slip than any thing terribly amusing. The WTO will refuse to let countries make copies of Tamiflu because that would be against the drug industry’s interests, and we know that would be bad for the world, so better to watch people die. TRIPS will yet again kill more people than it saves.

The tabloids will scare us, but in reality, it isn’t us, but the Africans, most of whom probably don’t realise this is going on, who should be scared. And how beautifully symbolic that one of the richest nations in Africa should be the point of entry into the African continent. Those who caught it first will have afforded a plane ticket, and will now be seeking medical attention. Those who catch it in a few weeks will be left to pass it round the slums of Durban and Cape Town. Wait till we get the incidence/time and first year fatality maps in Rio, and its an easy prediction what we’ll see: it’ll arrive in the rich districts first, and while they’re recovering nicely in private health centres, people in the favelas will start to drop dead.

And then there’ll be the smugness about “well, if people didn’t fly, we wouldn’t pass this around”. Yes, and if anarchists ruled the world, would we actually be capable of getting this situation under control without resorting to emergency powers?

Not one of us in the West has a right to panic about this, and not one of us has a right to feel in any way shape or form vindicated. There will be innocent death and guilty survivors. The British government will not relinquish any of its 33million courses of Tamiflu even if they’re more needed elsewhere. The WTO will help the makers of Tamiflu enforce their patents. And medical health professionals in America will either keep treating the rich, or despair that they can’t treat the poor.

Oh and whilst we’re at it, how much leadership has the Anglican church shown? I guess its possible some preachers in churches yesterday chose to focus on the threat of swine flu, but real spiritual leadership is likely to be lacking, though admittedly this might be because traditionally, one would gather the public in a single location for prayer, thus spreading the disease.

Oh well, I suppose at least one thing is certain: it won’t matter if you’re a terrorist or not, so the BBC will probably just nod its head and get on with showing the emergency aid video so we can all feel good about donating money to drugs companies in the hopes they might increase production without increasing prices. Still, media and big-pharma shares will be up, so perhaps the economy will stop failing, and a few airlines might go bust, which would cut CO2 emissions, so never fear, capitalism is here!

What a wonderful world we all live in.

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Entry filed under: Africa, Development, Health, Latin America, Mexico, News, Poverty, Swine Flu, Travel.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Matthew P  |  Wednesday, 6th May 2009 at 20:38 UTC

    I think you underestimate the threat slightly. It now seems the form of virus isn’t as virulent as feared. But the threat of a novel flu virus is that it can be most deadly for people in their 20s as it can cause a Cytokine Storm, which is when the immune system effectively turns on itself and destroys the lungs.

    Also, Tamiflu may be nice, but it’s not actually particularly effective. It’s the most effective thing we’ve got, but it still ain’t all that. Unfortunately, we’ve not actually progressed that far since 1918 when it comes to treating viruses. All we’ve got going for us now is better nutrition and better central heating.

    Reply

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