Mar 13, 2006
Every time a swan or a duck dies from the bird flu in a swamp somewhere in Europe, there is a flood of media coverage. On the other hand, there is almost no coverage of this disease in the poor countries of Asia and Africa, where it could produce tens of millions of dead birds but also, perhaps tomorrow, lead to grave consequences for humans.
The measures necessary to limit infection among birds have been known for decades, if not for centuries: birds with the flu must be quarantined, separated from others. When a flock of birds is infected, it is necessary to slaughter the entire flock and nearby ones as well. Additionally, birds need to be vaccinated to keep them from being contaminated by wild birds. Outdoor markets where poultry are sold must be closed.
In Africa, such measures are impossible to carry out. Nigeria has already announced cases of bird flu – putting the entire continent at risk for this disease. But the government can hardly propose slaughtering the birds. They have no means to pay compensation to peasants who raise birds for the market or just for basic survival.
The virus causing the bird flu is not recent. It was first identified in December 2003. It seems to have originated in Korea, then spread from one country to another. In just a few weeks’ time, all the countries of Southeast Asia were affected. Millions of birds died.
Men and women also died, although this virus is specific to birds and only under exceptional circumstances transmitted to humans. But where there is close contact between birds and humans – which is the case in poor regions – then transmission is possible. To date, some 200 people have been contaminated by the virus and close to half of them are dead, every single one from poor countries.
Right from the start, health experts predicted the risk of a rapid spread of the bird flu around the planet. According to the director of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in 2004, the international community had the obligation to “make a complete and major effort now, in order to avoid an epidemic.”
But nothing was done.
Viruses do not recognize borders. So the virus attacked large numbers of birds in Asia, then Africa and Europe. And in Africa, where it is difficult to separate humans from the fowl they keep for food, the contamination spreads more easily. And the consequences will be severe. Even more so since any disease will be aggravated by the epidemics of AIDS, of malaria, tuberculosis and all the other diseases that cause death in Africa. The treatment and the cure for these diseases are well known, but the health programs to deal with them are funded mainly for those in richer countries.
The more the virus spreads the higher the risk that it will go through a mutation. A mutation could eventually lead to a totally new virus that isn’t affected by existing immunizations and thus could become contagious directly between human beings.
In this way, a true world epidemic could begin. The rich countries have begun preparing by stockpiling Tamiflu and protective masks. But at the same time, they remain deaf to appeals from the poorer parts of the world to do what must be done to contain bird flu. By their unwillingness to spend what funds are needed in the poorer countries, the hypocrites of the richer ones will allow this flu to spread and develop further … thus preparing the way for another world crisis.
It really is an insane world!