[Marxism] World Health Organization: "What, me worry?"

Joaquin Bustelo jbustelo at gmail.com
Mon Apr 27 17:07:26 MDT 2009

	Alfred E. Newman isn't the head of the World Health Organization,
but his spirit appears to animate this august body.

	Meeting in emergency session today, the WHO committee set up to
monitor the possible swine flu pandemic raised the alert level from three to
four. What this means technically is that the capacity of the illness agent
to create community-wide outbreaks has been confirmed to a reasonable degree
of scientific certainty. 

	"The ability to cause sustained disease outbreaks in a community
marks a significant upwards shift in the risk for a pandemic. Any country
that suspects or has verified such an event should urgently consult with WHO
so that the situation can be jointly assessed and a decision made by the
affected country if implementation of a rapid pandemic containment operation
is warranted. Phase 4 indicates a significant increase in risk of a pandemic
but does not necessarily mean that a pandemic is a forgone conclusion."

	What it means in terms that you and I can understand is 1) that an
infectious agent has been identified as the likely cause of the disease and
2) that the epidemiological evidence that it is easily transmissible between
humans through casual contact is very strong. 

	And, oh yeah, in case I forget, that it looks like the disease can
kill you.

	On that last point, the thing to note is that the severity of the
illness caused by this new viral strain is still unclear. The data from
Mexico is alarming: there have been more than a hundred deaths from apparent
respiratory infections out of less than 2,000 cases (though it is reasonable
to assume the actual number of cases is much higher, as of the non-fatal
cases, only the EXTREMELY severe among lower socio-economic strata are
likely to have been reported, along with, of course, a higher proportion of
the cases among the "comfortable classes" and the really rich.

	From the United States, where the percentage of cases detected is
likely to be much higher (especially if we're dealing initially with cases
contracted in Mexico, as the big majority of people who visit Mexico from
the U.S. and return are mostly NOT from the lowest socio-economic strata),
there are more "scientifically confirmed" (by DNA matching) swine flu cases
than in Mexico but no deaths reported so far. 

	And the anecdotal evidence that things are WAY more advanced than is
being officially announced began to leak into the mainstream press over the
weekend -- before it was suppressed. You will have a hell of a time finding
this item on the BBC web site without the direct URL, but it is there.
Before giving you the address, just one quote:

	"I'm a specialist doctor in respiratory diseases and intensive care
at the Mexican National Institute of Health. There is a severe emergency
over the swine flu here....

	"There is a sense of chaos in the other hospitals and we do not know
what to do. Staff are starting to leave and many are opting to retire or
apply for holidays.

	"The truth is that mortality is even higher than what is being
reported by the authorities, at least in the hospital where I work it. It is
killing three to four patients daily, and it has been going on for more than
three weeks."

	Find the whole item here:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/talking_point/8018428.stm. Emails from Mexico.

	Given this situation, what did the World Health Organization do?

	It took a dive.

	"WHO advises no restriction of regular travel or closure of
borders," the official communiqué says.

	The formal statement, in the name of the director general, explains:
"Given the widespread presence of the virus, the Director-General considered
that containment of the outbreak is not feasible. The current focus should
be on mitigation measures.

	"The Director-General recommended not to close borders and not to
restrict international travel. It was considered prudent for people who are
ill to delay international travel and for people developing symptoms
following international travel to seek medical attention."

	The WHO decision is non-sensical ON ITS FACE. Explaining the raising
of the alert level to 4, the statement says, "The change to a higher phase
of pandemic alert indicates that the likelihood of a pandemic has increased,
but not that a pandemic is inevitable."

	Yet the REFUSAL to try to quarantine the outbreak is precisely the
OPPOSITE statement: "containment ... is not feasible." Well, if the disease
is highly contagious, which is what the level 4 classification means, and if
NOTHING is to be done to contain it, then a pandemic IS if not inevitable,
at the very least bloody likely.

	And if containment is not feasible in THIS outbreak, where all those
affected so far either are or have been in Mexico in the last few weeks,
then in NO case of an easily-transmissible infection is containment --the
most tried-and-true public health measure available in such cases-- to be

	It IS true that SOME cases --a handful-- have ALREADY been reported
in Europe and Asia. And it MAY be true that dozens or hundreds of such cases

are in an incubation period. But what this calls for is all travelers to
affected areas of the western hemisphere from the rest of the world to be
quarantined for a prudent period, a week or two. As well as those they have
been in close contact with them since their return. And in Eurasia and
Oceania, ALL unnecessary travel should stop forthwith for a prudent period.
And by "unnecessary" I mean non-life-and-death. If its just about cutting
some business deal that you're sure will provide the ultimate answer to the
ultimate question about life, the universe and everything, then it'll just
have to wait if you can't finalize it over Skype.

	People will complain that ordering certain individuals to stay home
(under penalty of imprisonment), closing all borders for a few days an so on
is going to create "panic." So be it. Compared to thousands or millions of
deaths, I'll take panic any day.

	Obama got up today to say there was cause for "concern" but not
"alarm." Bullshit.

	If there is even a SMALL chance that THIS virus will prove as deadly
as the one from the 1918 pandemic, which killed more people than died in
WWI, then there is not just cause for "alarm" but for a total hysterical
freak-out. And the morbidity and mortality figures from Mexico fully justify

	The infection rate in the 1918 pandemic is estimated to have been as
high as 25%. Couple that with a death rate that Mexican data suggests could
be as high as 6%, and probably prudently should not be assumed to be less
than 1%, and you are looking at tens or hundreds of millions of deaths

	In the United States, you're looking at anywhere from 750,000 to 4-5
million deaths. From this ONE pandemic. 

	A decade or so ago, Cuba was STILL taking a lot of heat from the
decision it made in the early and mid-1980's to quarantine people with the
then-little-understood Acquired Immunity Deficiency Syndrome. But today Cuba
still has one of the lowest AIDS infection rates in the world, though the
(to some people) "extreme" measures taken 20 years ago are no longer
applied. But I believe that is true BECAUSE Cuba understood and applied from
the outset the principle that the rights of the many outweigh the rights of
the few, or the one.

	That is the principle the World Health Organization should have
applied in these circumstances. 

	With any luck, this will not be a pandemic, or at least the extreme
severity of the Mexican cases reported so far will prove to be a fluke. 

	But it is also true that the AIDS pandemic DID NOT HAVE TO HAPPEN.
Some 25 million people so far have paid with their lives for the failure of
the world's health authorities to squarely confront the AIDS crisis; 30-some
million more are estimated to have been already infected and almost
certainly face greatly reduced lifetimes for the same reason, and medical
eradication of AIDS --through a vaccine or a cure-- is nowhere on the

	What I wish for right now is that whoever was making Cuba's
decisions on AIDS in the early and mid-80's be declared plenipotentiary
world dictator, at least for the next two or three months.

	And --yes-- world commerce and trade be damned. 



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