The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Bird flu plans:
FEMA and Katrina

Nov 7, 2005

Even if Bush’s plans for a bird-flu epidemic were completely serious, the best that can be said for them is that the plans will only create another FEMA for another Katrina.

What good does it do to throw billions of dollars to drug-company researchers who compete in secret, instead of coordinating their research? To researchers whose results are measured by profits instead of measured by the production of the most effective medicines?

Moreover, what good are plans on paper without the money, the facilities, the material and the personnel to carry out the plans?

Even an editorial writer for the Washington Post wrote that “at times, the plan seems divorced from reality.” No kidding! First, Bush says the bird flu is an urgent threat. Then, he proposes to take his time and not meet his vaccine goal until the year 2010!

Further, Bush proposes to stick with existing flu treatments and the companies that produce them.

Sanofi-Aventis gets 100 million dollars to provide a vaccine stockpile for a flu outbreak. But not only is the vaccine made by old techniques that only keep about five years; the vaccine is not adapted to handle mutations in the bird-flu virus H5N1.

Chiron Corp. gets 62.5 million dollars for a vaccine similar to Sanofi’s, and Chiron’s track record is terrible. It was responsible for causing a widespread shortage of flu shots in the U.S. last year, because it allowed its production plant to become contaminated. The re-opened plant is behind in its production of regular flu vaccine this year again!

Then there’s Tamiflu, not a vaccine, but a medicine that may be able to lessen the worst effects of some flu attacks in some people. Tamiflu’s patent is held by the Roche (Hoffman-LaRoche) company. Roche’s Tamiflu is in great demand but it limits its production to 10 million doses per year for the entire world – and it refuses to license any other production, in order to keep its price artificially high.

If the government were serious about protecting the population as soon as possible, it would develop a real crash program, pursuing several lines of research at once, coordinating the research and results of many laboratories at one time. Into the war on influenza it would draft the necessary scientists and facilities, wherever they might be found. The government would declare their results to be public property, just like water supplies or roads.

But what’s worst of all – Bush’s proposal orders state and local communities to stockpile vaccines and hospital supplies. The costs to the states are calculated at 510 million dollars. But Bush’s plans provide only 100 million dollars; and then Bush’s budget now in congress cuts 130 million dollars from federal aid to states’ public health programs.

Those cuts come on top of years of other cuts which have fundamentally broken what public health structure used to exist. Urban hospitals closed one by one, then three by three. City and county health institutions starved for funds, and closed. Neighborhood clinics are almost a thing of the past. Hospitals today discuss ways to legally deny emergency services to the poor.

Without such local facilities, there is no way to collect exact information on spreading disease – the most important single step needed to block an epidemic.

In all measures but one, Bush’s plans are indeed divorced from reality. In this one “reality”, only the rich will have access to the most modern, effective countermeasures against any epidemic.

To any bourgeois government, that’s the only thing that really counts.