Friday, April 03, 2020

Capitalism and Disease

For over forty years, Michael Osterholm, founding director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, has been investigating, studying — and warning us about — our deadliest enemy: infectious disease. Major epidemics — even pandemics — are inevitable, he says, and yet we are unprepared, both nationally and globally, for their personal, social and economic consequences, as our recent experiences with outbreaks of Zika, Ebola, MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), yellow fever, dengue fever and influenza have shown.
Those of us living in the developed world, remain remarkably complacent about the threat of emerging infectious diseases. Even if we accept that the peril exists, we tend to believe the real danger is to “other” people, particularly poorer people living in distant countries. 
Or we believe that when faced with a major epidemic, our government and the scientific community will devise a solution in time to protect our families and us. The present COVID-19 pandemic has now changed that perception. 
Our vulnerability to infectious diseases is greater today than it has been in almost any other time in history — and we are all at risk. 
The cases of yellow fever has been rising in Africa and in South America. The carrier, the Ae. aegypti mosquito can now be found in many areas of the southern United States an area where US poverty rates are at their highest, along with its slum housing and stagnant water.
Osterholm explains:
 “We have the ability to make a very effective vaccine for yellow fever. The problem is no one wants to spend the money to make it because you can’t make money on it…With yellow fever, up to a third of the people who become clinically ill and develop the illness die. It’s a horrible disease. It was the disease that kept us from building the Panama Canal for decades. It caused huge outbreaks in the United States in the 1700s. It literally wiped out large parts of the city of Philadelphia. And even though we have a vaccine for it today, we can’t get it to people because nobody will make it. If yellow fever comes back, it will make dengue and Zika seem like much lesser public health problems.
He continues:
Or take a look at poultry. Right now, we have a pandemic of influenza happening. It’s just that it’s happening in birds. If you look in Asia, Africa, or even in the Americas, if you’re a bird today, you’re in the middle of an influenza pandemic. And we’re seeing unprecedented transmission in birds we’ve never seen before. What’s changed about the birds of the world? Poultry production is by far the most efficient conversion of energy to protein that we have, and with more than 7 billion people now on the face of the Earth, we need that. Each month 100 million chickens are raised in the peri-urban region of Shanghai just to feed the population of Shanghai. From the time that a chicken is hatched until its breast is on the plate is about 35 days. So every month, 100 million new chickens are born. Each one of those chickens is an ideal test tube to grow an influenza virus.
In a nutshell, the problem of medicine and health-care is capitalist society.

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