Thursday, October 20, 2005

Birds of a feather

hfn1 - portrait of a killer

What do the president of the US and the worlds leading pharmaceutical companies have in common? They are all betting on a pandemic “bird flu” for personal power and profit.

But they are the good guys, they are trying to save us from a deadly virus!

So why aren’t I shaking in my boots about the imagined killer flu?

Excuse my cynicism. The president’s approval rate is plummeting, things aren’t going his way in Iraq and his ‘lets go fishing while Louisiana goes to hell in a hand basket’ strategy just didn’t work. He needs a threat greater than terrorism to rally the nation and a non-existent pandemic is just perfect.

Pharmaceutical companies are not the good corporate citizens they wish to appear. These are large organizations whose reason for being is illness, not wellness. In short, they love it when you are sick, but even better can make money out of you when you are well by fear mongering. Ultimately they have to reap the greatest rewards out of the flu beat up. Currently the two leading anti viral drugs are being stockpiled and the companies can’t keep up with demand. This is Christmas in October for them and things can only get better.

Since the Shrub stood up and told us to be very afraid of this avian born bug, other nations have jumped on the bandwagon. Our own little kicker for God, Abbott this week offered the nation a vaccine that has not been invented, for a disease that has not happened. The British government has gone even further. Not only have they already bought over 14 million courses of Roche’s Tamiflu, in the hope it could abort the virus in its tracks, the chief medical officer has promised TWO shots of this fabled vaccine for everyone in the country. Come on is anyone going to bid us three?

There are a lot of “ifs” in this whole scenario.

What if the virus jumps from birds to humans. It hasn’t yet. How about we turn some attention on the problem as it stands – intensive and often inhumane poultry farming. I’d curl up my toes and die too if I was a battery chook.

If it does jump the species barrier – it will be like nothing we have ever seen before. Remember SARS? It was going to slay us all. Who did it kill? The mortality rate of the 8,500 people effected was under 10%. A big scary pandemic? More people are killed from drunk driving or smoking . What’s more it is only a fraction of the iatrogenic deaths in this country each year.

It is touted that the great Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 also originated in feathered beasts. Troops, on both sides of the battles, in WWI were the primary target of this flu. What was the state of the immune system of a soldier surviving 4 years of conflict? What role did poor nutrition, stress and chemical warfare play in the mortality rate of this influenza?

Interestingly the US Armed Forces Institute of Pathology managed to recreate this virus in the laboratory 3 years ago. That piece of information alone makes me itch with conspiracy theories, but I will resist.

If bird flu does become a killer of humans will a vaccine be made in time? The lead time for the production of this vaccine is speculated to be around 4-6 months. In that time the virus could travel to every corner of the earth. Sure those in power will put on masks, avoid the public and shovel down there gob all the antiviral drugs they’ve kept for themselves, but the effectiveness of such a drug is only minimal against existing flu’s. Would it really stop them getting the killer bug? In the meantime, you and I and the other proles should be falling like flies, or so those in power want us to believe.

If the wonder vaccine hits the shelves will it be safe? In the small lead time, it would not be tested on humans or peer reviewed. This means it is open slather for the pharmaceutical companies who can put out a drug that has not been proven safe and charge a premium for it. They must be being dazzled by dollar signs everytime a politician stands up and talks about the issue. But we are so afraid, we won't mind being a guinea pig, will we.

The safety of immunisations is a contentious issue. Believe me if you want to start a bloody fight at even the most civilized dinner party, raise the topic of childhood immunisation and take the ‘against’ side just for the hell of it.

Oh and just before I leave that subject, did you know it is enshrined in legislation that your doctor is not obliged to tell you the possible side effects of a vaccine – it seems herd immunity or at least the concept of it, is more important than informed choice.

If the vaccine doesn’t kill you, will it be effective against the killer virus? Even our Tony seems a little sceptical as to its effectiveness.

In the meantime, the often preventable, cardiovascular diseases kill 17 million people a year, worldwide. That means it's responsible for 1:3 deaths. But blocked arteries don't get attention in a nation at war. Dietary changes are not in the best interests of drug manufacturers. So the real, unsexy pandemics remain underfunded despite potentially simple campaigns that could saving more lives, than a jab in the arm may.


Blogger DJ said...

Readers or Orwell will recall that in 1984 the world that Smith inhabited was "Always at war". You see the government used the spectre of war to justify its actions.
Today we are at war. With...something or someone. Astute world-domination aspiring sorts know this is the sure fire way to keep the masses subdued and add a legitimate "cause" behind which everyone rallies. War on Terror, War on Bird Flu... there will be more. Why isnt there a war agaist poverty? A war against pollution? A war against racism?

Think about the last period of time you choose, we've always been at war, cold war, Korean, Vietnam, WW2, WW1 Boer... and more. We are always at war. Welcome to Orwell's world

6:26 pm  
Blogger DJ said...

(That should read "Readers of Orwell")

6:27 pm  
Blogger Brownie said...

oh dj we are all smart enough to work through typos!

The hardened arteries are caused by all the nutritionless crap going through supermarket checkouts.

Look in those trolleys piled high with giant bags of cheesels & potato (?) crisps etc. - suicide by shopping. agree totally with your Post AOF.

10:52 am  
Blogger guru Rex said...

Great piece AOF; I have a certain little Sister that should be able to negotiate a pay rise if vaccine sales are good!

10:56 am  
Blogger Chai said...

Slightly off topic but "The Taiwanese government has announced that it will violate patent laws to manufacture a drug that can help fight bird flu virus.

Thought it might be of interest...

8:15 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

On the ABC I thought I was listening to the president of the AMA repeating my blog word for word.

Dr Mukesh Haikerwal reiterated the virus has not mutated to human-human transmission and we shouldn't get caught up in the hype.
"[We must] reassure the public that they are in no immediate danger so that they don't get too concerned about rushing off, getting immunisations that don't exist, and rushing off getting tablets and sprays against influenza that may not work."

He also reminded people to wash their hands.

This is either the most sensible thing coming out of the whole flu flap, or a cunning government sponsored campaign to keep costs down.

8:55 am  

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