This week's visit to Pravda (have we missed a visit somewhere back there?) gives us this brief piece outlining a possible threat to humanity from the latest strain of avian (or "bird") flu originating in Far Eastern chickens and travelling via ducks (the old Marx Brothers bit... China? Marx? Never mind...) quite possibly into a strain transmittable to humans.
The reference to the Spanish flu, of course, refers to the pandemic that broke out right after World War I, and killed well over 20 million world wide (around the same number as the world war itself). The reference to the Black Death, if possible, is even more ominous, as the bubonic plague transmitted by rats killed something around a third of Europe's population around the 1300's.
While I would hope that a large part of the world, with modern public health measures, would be far less susceptible to a pandemic than they were 85 years ago, given that the world, in large parts anyway, is already subject to an AIDS pandemic, reducing immuno-resistance as it is, and given the much larger population and the "mega-metropolises" (massive cities well over 10,000,000 people-- several in China and India, Karachi, Pakistan, Lagos, Nigeria, Mexico City, Rio and Sao Paolo, Brazil), I would have to guess the possibility of a devastating pandemic with worldwide deaths well in excess of 1918-19 levels is hardly out of the question.
As always, Americans prove totally incapable of assessing the actual risks of anything. Hence, we seem to have no problem as we value "intellectual property rights" of government subsidized pharmaceutical companies who refuse to set realistic prices for AIDS drugs in the third world as more important than (1) saving human lives over there, and (2) reducing the possibility of devastating pandemic that will infest and blow back over here. We stand by as our own government-- alone in the world-- fails to step up to make sure it has ample alternative supply of this year's flu vaccine (a mistake that will probably result in the unnecessary shortening of thousands of American lives). But we go apeshit at the possibility of (Arab) terrorists exploding a nuclear device in one American city.
The fact is, I would guess that pandemic is a far likelier threat to our nation's people. My guess is that the attention it receives from our government would be something like "zero". Why? There aren't the immense profits to be made from heading off a pandemic that there would be to solve such burning problems as heartburn (sorry), baldness, depression, obesity...
Pravda sends us a polite little wake up call. While I would hope that we take our collective head out of our ass and "think globally" about public health, other than gay-bashing and government spending without paying for it, it's hard for me to think of anything the majority of Americans care about. Including our own health and safety.
Thanks TD. Just as I was still down from Yasser's death, you post this article to cheer my spirits. Time to increase my investment in drug company stocks.
Posted by Hassan Bar Sinister at November 13, 2004 3:27 PM
Thanks TD. America sucks. What a shithole. 'Worse place on the planet to live. I'm moving to Angola.
Posted by Jihad Jay at November 13, 2004 4:28 PM
You're right about the lousy risk assessment capability of the average American.Watching your election coverage from here in UK the most striking thing was the number of interviewees voting for GWB because "he'd protect us from terrorists". These were usually not people living downwind of Ground Zero but folk with a thousand miles of corn between them and the nearest swarthy threat and who were more likely to get shot by the nearest twitchy handgun owner. Who would have thought that back in the days when you had a president to admire FDR said " the only thing we have to fear is fear itself".
Posted by Ron at November 13, 2004 5:11 PM
As always, Americans prove totally incapable of assessing the actual risks of anything. Hence, we seem to have no problem as we value "intellectual property rights" of government subsidized pharmaceutical companies who refuse to set realistic prices for AIDS drugs... We stand by as our own government-- alone in the world-- fails to step up to make sure it has ample alternative supply of this year's flu vaccine.
The reason we have a flu vaccine shortage is because the government is preventing companies from entering the vaccine market through overregulation and price controls, the very thing you want to do with AIDS drugs.
(from the WSJ) The reason for today's shortage -- as well as seven previous preventive vaccine shortages since 2000 -- is that there are just five vaccine makers. This lack of suppliers is partly thanks to Hillary Clinton, who as first lady turned government into the majority buyer of vaccines and pushed prices so low as to make business unsustainable.
And you want to do the same thing with other drugs?
Posted by Lawrence at November 13, 2004 6:06 PM
Glad I cheered you up. I'd short big pharma, at least in the near term, if I were you; vioxx is just the beginning.
We'll miss you, big guy. But I'm sure Angola's loss will be our gain.
War is the health of the state, and fear seems to be its life blood. Our state is as healthy as hell, I'm afraid.
Hillary (and her husband) have been out of power for four years now (though stick around for '08!!!). I would say if the President and his party which has been in total control of our government over most of the last four years didn't like the current situation re: vaccine supplies, they were more than free to change it, legislatively, regulatorily, or any other way they liked.
Socialized medicine (pros and cons) is way, way, way too complicated a subject to deal with in this little snippet of a comment threat (and I was actually more interested in faulty risk assessments than in that overall discussion).
Let's just say the free market is far from a perfect answer to the delivery of health care; though, of course, there are certainly plenty of even worse ways to deliver health care. Unfortunately in the United States, it is often said that we provide many of the worst elements of both socialized and free market medicine... Given that we spend something like over $1.4 trillion on our nation's health care, while still lagging the world in many key health measures (infant mortality, longevity, et al.), we have some work to do.
My point related more to risk assessment: our government seemed FAR more concerned with a hypothetical (if not inconceivable) smallpox attack, for example, then the inevitable, annual, CERTAIN onset of influenza. Maybe its Hillary's fault... or maybe its because the same government that couldn't properly assess actual Iraqi WMD risk couldn't properly assess influenza epidemic risk.
Posted by the talking dog at November 13, 2004 6:30 PM
That's your problem, TD. Always thinking short term.
Would anyone miss Jihad Jay? I'm somewhat curious to find out, but that would leave his poor wife alone to subsist on a beauty school education.
Posted by Hassan Bar Sinister at November 13, 2004 7:16 PM
Some of this is an age thing: I'm old enough to remember kids getting polio and kids dying of scarlet fever and relatives hacking around with tuberculosis. I also remember when Dr. Salk waived his patent rights to the polio vaccine (incredible!) and when the town's public health department handed out free oral polio vaccine (on tasty sugar cubes). It's not such a horrendous idea to have the federal government mandate the manufacture of sufficient vaccine and antitoxin supplies. If not from a public health perspective, then at least from a military one. You can't wage an effective WAR ON TERROR! if everyone's lodged in iron lungs or gripped by the grippe.
Posted by Miss Authoritiva at November 14, 2004 11:09 PM
Miss A, I like you. You certainly are familiar with medication. Ha Ha Ha!!
Posted by Kim Jong-Illin at November 15, 2004 11:11 AM