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INSIDE TRACK ON WORLD NEWS
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis
BILLIONS FOR WAR - PENNIES FOR HEALTHCopyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2005
October 17, 2005
BANGKOK: On my way to Southeast Asia to cover the potential avian flu pandemic, a huge natural disaster erupted in my path. Northern Pakistan and Kashmir, one of the world’s most majestic regions, and dear to me from my years covering the Afghan Wars, was ravaged by a monster earthquake that killed, by latest count, 39,000 people, half children.
How effectively Gen. Pervez Musharraf’s government reacts may determine its future. Disasters either make or break politicians, depending how they handle them. Compare New York’s Mayor Rudi Guiliani’s resolute leadership after 9/11 to President George Bush’s bungling over Hurricane Katrina.
Ironically, America’s on- again, off- again hostility to Pakistan seriously hampered its emergency effort. A US military embargo on Pakistan over its nuclear program prevented Islamabad from acquiring the heavy lift helicopters it now desperately needs. The Bush administration wrongly accused major Islamic international charities with terrorism and shut them down. They would normally lead emergency aid and relief efforts in ravaged Pakistan. Many Muslims will be forced to send aid money to Pakistan through Christian charities which often use third world disasters to try to convert victims.
On US TV, I was actually asked, `how many al-Qaida were killed by the quake?’ My reply: a handful, but not worth single dead Pakistani child. Weep for Pakistan. A generation of children in its poorest region was erased, and national development set back a decade.
Now, a greater scourge may soon break upon us. And like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, America’s self-professed `War President’ is again asleep on guard duty.
World scientists have warned for years that avian flu, concentrated here in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and China, will spread across the globe: it has already reached Eastern Europe. If the virus jumps to humans, we will face a global pandemic some experts say could rival or even surpass the deadly 1918 Spanish avian flu that killed 40-50 million worldwide. Humans lack natural resistance to the oncoming superflu. So far, only 60 people have died in Southeast Asia after direct contact with domestic fowl. But genetic mutation is already under way that may make the new superflu highly infective to people. Only when this new strain is identified, can production of vaccines begin.
But when the flu pandemic goes global experts fear some time this winter there won’t be time to produce enough vaccines. 70% of vaccine is made in Europe. US vaccine plants were shut over the years because of non-profitability.
The Bush Administration, which is spending US$362 billion on its fool’s war in Iraq, lacks funds to restart vaccine production. Last winter, the US even ran out of normal flu vaccines, a humiliating fiasco for the world’s richest nation.
Billions for aggressive wars; pennies for national health- a policy worthy of the old Soviet Union.
If the pandemic hits this year, there will be worldwide shortages of flu vaccine, particularly in the USA. President Bush’s dithering and inattention to this grave threat has left Americans open to pandemic illness and civil unrest. Only now is the White House beginning to take action. But the pandemic threat was clear to world health officials over a year ago.
Only one current drug, Tamiflu, may reduce avian flu symptoms, particularly in vulnerable elderly and children. The White House has put in a last-minute order with Roche for 81 million Tamiflu doses, but Roche says it may not be produced in time for winter.
Canada, France, Britain, and Japan all laid in ample stocks well in advance. The US finds itself at the very end of the world’s order line for Tamiflu. What a disgrace, and what an egregious act of negligence by a government so obsessed with the minor threat of terrorism and conquering Iraq it averts its eyes from an oncoming disease tsunami.
Existing US Tamiflu stocks can treat only 2% of the population. Bush’s solution: `well bring out the army.’ Indeed, riots, chaos, mass evacuations, and economic collapse can be expected if the pandemic hits the woefully unprepared United States. Those know-it-all Republican Conservatives who sneer at other nation’s `socialist’ public health programs may be the first to die if the flu pandemic hits.
Meanwhile, here in Southeast Asia, we watch the utterly pitiless, whole scale extermination of chickens, ducks and geese. These poor creatures are stuffed live into garbage pails or burned alive in flaming pits. Bird flu is the result of factory farming, unsanitary husbandry and filthy handling by South Asian nations. Birds, living, sentient creatures, are paying a terrible price.
Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2005
To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here
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