At the United Nations on Wednesday, President Bush proposed an "international partnership" to combat the disease, and the United States announced last week that it had placed orders for $100 million worth of a promising but technically unlicensed vaccine that is under development by the French drug maker Sanofi-Aventis.
If it was up to me I'd take money away from Bush's massive Gulf Coast mini-Great Society boondoggle (why subsidize rebuilding in a flood plain where hurricanes will hit again and again?) and use it instead to develop better influenza vaccine production technologies and other measures to protect against the inevitable next influenza pandemic. Why subsidize the movement of people back into harm's way when we could instead fund research that would remove people from harm's way? But my knee jerk use of rational analysis keeps placing me outside of the emotional mainstream.
We are overdue for the next big influenza pandemic and it is just a matter of time till the pandemic happens.
"We know we're overdue for an influenza pandemic strain, and we know it will occur, but we don't know when or even exactly what virus will cause it," said Dick Thompson, a WHO spokesman. "It is possible that the virus won't be H5N1 at all or that this virus will change in a way so that the vaccine under development doesn't work against it."
Thompson added that government orders for unproven vaccines still are worthwhile because they provide incentives for companies to do vaccine development work against H5N1. That makes sense. The companies will be further up the learning curve on H5N1 and will also have more vaccine production facilities in place available to switch over to a different vaccine variant once the exact pandemic strain emerges.
The backdrop to these statements is the avian flu news from Indonesia. Indonesia has 4 dead from the H5N1 avian flu strain and birds all over the Indonesian islands have the flu.
The developments highlighted Indonesia's continuing struggle against bird flu, which is endemic in chicken flocks across the sprawling island nation and has killed four humans since July, the most recent being a 37-year-old woman who died nine days ago.
Three Indonesian children are suspected of having been infected with bird flu, a health official said, while the Jakarta zoo remains closed over an outbreak of the disease.
'There are now three suspected cases of bird flu infection, all children,' said Sumardi, the health ministry's acting spokesman.
Apriyantono later told reporters his ministry had requested more funds to handle the outbreak, but said the government had little money to conduct a mass slaughter of poultry or birds.
"Depopulation will need a huge amount of funds. This year, we need more funds for avian influenza to do research, surveillance and selective depopulation."
The WHO would support recommendations by the World Organisation for Animal Health and by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) for a mass cull in Indonesia, Petersen said.
I'd love to know what the cost of a huge domestic bird depopulation would cost in Indonesia. Suppose the US withdrew from Iraq and used some of the money against domestic avian flu in poor countries. How many weeks of fighting in Iraq would yield enough money to pay for a cull of infected birds in Indonesia, Cambodia, and Laos?
The WHO regional director for Western Pacific, Shigeru Omni, said at the opening of a WHO conference in New Caledonia that poor Asian farmers are a weak link in the fight to contain the disease. He said these farmers are reluctant to report bird flu outbreaks because of a lack of financial incentives to do so.
WHO says countries should hold a mass culling when an outbreak occurs, but some nations refuse. Indonesia has launched a vaccination drive for poultry, but has carried out only limited culling because it lacks the money to compensate farmers.
When the pandemic comes it will cost industrialized countries trillions of dollars. Why not spend a small fraction of that up front to reduce the odds of the pandemic in the first place? As one of the B-52s women singers once sang "I'm just asking!".
World Health Organization (WHO) Indonesia country representative Georg Petersen says that farmers living in close proximity to their chickens makes the spread of avian flu to humans hard to control. At the same time an Indonesian government official says Indonesians should just accustom themselves to getting sick from H5N1 avian influenza.
``The problem with this country, as in many Asian countries is that a large portion of the chickens are raised by farmers in their backyard and even within the cities, people are raising chickens and this is very difficult to control,'' Petersen said.
Indonesians ``will have to be prepared to live together with bird flu, as it has with dengue,'' agriculture minister Anton Apriantono told reporters while visiting Pasar Cempaka Putih, a traditional market that sells live poultry in central Jakarta today. Dengue, which causes, fevers, rashes, headaches, muscle pain and sometimes death, is an annual occurrence in Indonesia.
Bottom line? Your own considerable future risk of getting killed by an H5N1 avian influenza pandemic comes from an attitude prevalent in Third World countries that lots of disease sicken and kill people so why get worked up about just one more infectious disease?
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2005 September 19 02:06 PM Dangers Natural Bio|