Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

SARS – A socialist analysis

SARS is a disease with flu like symptoms that is infectious and kills up to
10% of those it infects. It is not as infectious or as deadly as some of
the flu strains yet already it is causing major concern and upheaval,
particularly in Asia’s economy.
SARS may or may not be as dangerous as it is being made out to be by the
world media. However, it certainly highlights that with globalisation of
the economy no longer can illness be confined to a single nation state or
region and that the global economy ensures a more rapid spread of disease
as well as a greater impact on the world economy. More importantly it shows
such a problem can no longer be tackled on a nation by nation basis. It
also signals the possibility of a greater epidemic to come.
Flu’s and other illnesses have often spread throughout the world killing or
infecting many people. Many such illnesses are much more deadly than SARS,
e.g. AIDS or Ebola; or have caused more death such as the Asia Flu pandemic
of 1958-1959. However, for various reasons such as uncertainty as to the
means of spreading or of how quickly and easily it spreads, lack of certain
knowledge of what causes it , no effective vaccine and its rapid spread,
apparently through direct contact, it has caused much fear and panic. The
most immediate effects have been on the already fragile airline industry
with many flights to infected areas such as Hong Kong , Vietnam and China
being cancelled. People have stopped going to restaurants in locations
overseas and even Chinese restaurants in Australia because of fear of the
disease. Hotels in Asia are reporting falling occupancy rates, business
conferences have been cancelled and stores and restaurants are almost
empty. Investment bank Morgan Stanley has predicted a 0.2% to 0.5% drop
per month in Hong Kong’s output for each month the disease continues.
Morgan Stanley have also scaled down its growth estimates for all of Asia
(except for Japan) from 5.1% to 4.5%. This demonstrates the fragility of
the world’s economy already ravaged by the war and fragile stock markets.
The virus is believed to have started in November 2002 in Guangdong
Province in China. It was not until February 2003 that China revealed that
there had been an outbreak. The lack of information from China may have
contributed to the global outbreak. If such is the case and it happens
again it could be even more of a problem in the future, as the warm humid
climate in Southern China where millions of people live in proximity to
pigs, chickens and goats makes it a virtual incubator of new viruses. The
flu outbreaks of 1919, 1958 and 1969 which killed millions world wide all
originated from that region, and the increase in air travel means that
such diseases can now travel the world on a far wider scale with incredible
speed. In 1995 the number of travellers at national borders was 550
million, in 2002 it was over 700 million.
Apart from China not wanting to reveal the outbreak of the disease for
financial and prestige reasons, Hong Kong were also very slow to quarantine
people exposed to it.
Of course if these countries did not have the overriding concern of
protecting their own national economies, such lack of responsiveness would
not occur. Also however such an outbreak highlights the need for more
effective anti viral drugs to combat such diseases. International drug
companies interested only in profit are not going to put in the funding
needed for research for such drugs.
Illnesses such as SARS will occur under both capitalism and socialism. The
likelihood of them occurring and the reaction of the economy both on local
and global scales will be far different. Only under socialism will
interests of the people both locally and world wide take precedence over
economic interests. Only in a socialist world will regions fully co-operate
with each other with out regard to previous national borders to prevent the
spread of disease. Only with Socialism will efforts of scientists be
employed for the finding of cures for disease before the need for profits
and with the provision of decent health care for all. Only under socialism
will the world economy not be subject to the whims of nature.

By Gary Duffy