The outbreak of Influenza A H1N1, know as the Swine Flu, has in the last few months resulted in frenzied panic the world over.
The virus outbreak, which started in Mexico, is thought to have commenced from swine by crossing the species barrier to humans. The virus however is not just a ‘swine flu’, but is a new strain of the influenza A virus and a combination of several strains from humans, swine and birds.
The rapid spread of the highly contagious virus worldwide qualifies it as a pandemic. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) to date there have been more than 72 confirmed deaths from H1N1 – at least 48 of these were in Mexico. The WHO also state, contrary to many media reports that these deaths occurred mainly in people with a chronic underlying illness. There have been over 8000 confirmed cases in over 30 countries.
Despite the fact that it is not possible to contract the virus by eating pork, some Governments, spurred on by incorrect media hype, have used this reason as an excuse to continue oppression of minority groups and to carry out protectionist policies.
The Egyptian Government, for example, has culled thousands of pigs. These pigs have mainly been farmed by minority Christian groups who are generally from poorer and working class areas on the outskirts of Cairo. In many countries the importing of pork from North and South America has been banned including in Russia, China and Indonesia.
Meanwhile China bizarrely has held hundreds of recently arrived Mexican nationals in quarantine- none of whom have actually displayed any symptoms of the flu.
The outbreak has served to highlight the contradictions and inequalities that exist under capitalism where one disease receives so much attention yet everyday hundreds and thousands of people die from preventable diseases. It has also exemplified the profit driven role of multi-national pharmaceutical companies.
Roche, the company that has the patent for the anti-viral drug Tamiflu has naturally cashed in on the hype by increasing the price of the drug by 30 per cent in the last month alone. Tamiflu was originally marketed as an anti viral to fight bird flu and is believed, but still not confirmed, to be successful in H1N1. Many countries have simply sold out of the Tamiflu as the media and Roche reported its use to fight the pandemic.
Countries where H1N1 had not even been detected reported such depleted stocks that if the virus was actually as virulent as first thought they would not be able to provide enough of the drug to where it was needed. Rather it would be primarily the wealthy who already had bought the medication that would benefit from its use.
The only way to overcome these problems is to nationalise the pharmaceutical companies under democratic control for the benefit of all of humanity. In this way research, prevention and treatments can be genuinely developed to prevent the spread of disease. It is only a socialist system, free from profit motives and based on democratic planning that can achieve this.
By Denise Dudley