Quit Hoggin!

April 30, 2009

Some sources suggest that the death rate from Swine Flu in Mexico has begun to drop, now that public health measures are being stepped up. Meanwhile, the Guardian’s Simon Jenkins has some cautionary advice for the purveyors of doom:

The World Health Organisation, always eager to push itself into the spotlight, loves to talk of the world being “ready” for a flu pandemic, apparently on the grounds that none has occurred for some time. There is no obvious justification for this scaremongering. I suppose the world is “ready” for another atomic explosion or another 9/11.

Professional expertise is now overwhelmed by professional log-rolling. Risk aversion has trounced risk judgment. An obligation on public officials not to scare people or lead them to needless expense is overridden by the yearning for a higher budget or more profit. Health scares enable media-hungry doctors, public health officials and drugs companies to benefit by manipulating fright.

On Monday the EU health commissioner, Androulla Vassiliou, advised travellers not to go to north or central America “unless it’s very urgent”. The British Foreign Office warned against “all but essential” travel to Mexico because of the danger of catching flu. This was outrageous. It would make more sense to proffer such a warning against the American crime rate. Yet such health-and-safety hysteria wiped millions from travel company shares.

He’s not wrong.

A couple of doctors/students from University College’s Medical School have responded favorably to Jenkins’ piece, writing that “Influenza happens every few years and will continue to happen every few years. Doubtless there will be deaths, but these will be a drop in the ocean of deaths due to preventable killer infectious diseases that, worldwide, occur daily as a result of poor nutrition, poor sanitation, contaminated water supplies, needless conflict and inadequately managed vaccination programmes.”

So let’s get real, please.

The UCH correspondents add correctly that “It is a strange paradox that the world is so concerned about a possible wave of a disease that, in the great majority of cases, will be mild and self-limiting and yet, despite repeated warnings from the World Health Organisation, does so little to combat tuberculosis, a chronic, debilitating and often fatal disease which has been declared a “global emergency” by the WHO.”

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