Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Swine Flu: Are Travel Bans Necessary?
I see the World Health Organization has raised the pandemic alert to four.
Which only tells us that this new virus travels easily from human to human. Instead of raising it to five which would among other things trigger all kind of travel bans.
But who can blame them?
A decision about travel restrictions or advisories, for example, could affect trade and finances at a time of economic chaos. If the public health emergency declared by the W.H.O. and the Obama administration turns out to be a false alarm, officials will be ridiculed for unnecessarily worrying millions of people — perhaps even for creating fear to justify their budgets.
Especially when they can't be sure how lethal this virus really is:
Occasionally, alerts of a new virus, or a mutation of an old one, come from a laboratory. More often, fatalities are the first clue.
But high initial death rates often fall as officials find that the causative microbe also causes mild, even symptomless cases. Officials may learn that the outbreak has gone on silently for weeks, even months.
And Mexico isn't providing enough answers.
A portrait is emerging of a slow and confused response by Mexico to the gathering swine flu epidemic. And that could mean the world is flying blind into a global health storm.
It remained unclear where and how the epidemic began, how it has spread, who it has killed or how fast it is growing. And the government has yet to take some basic steps critical to containing any outbreak, such as quick treatment of people who had contact with the victims.
But who can blame the Mexicans when the real problem is poverty?
Or blame the WHO for taking that into account...and understanding what a complete travel ban could do to Mexico's shattered economy?
Especially since the virus cannot be contained. Not a single person has died anywhere else in the world. And the global economic crisis has already forced 50 million people in the developing countries into extreme poverty.
The kind of poverty that KILLS.
The WHO had to choose between the outbreak and the recession, and they came down in the middle.
Which at this point doesn't really change anything anyway. Once an influenza bug starts spreading NOTHING can stop it. It'll find you in Acapulco..... it'll find you in Chibougamou.
Until we determine whether the virus is a killer...or has mutated into something less lethal...we can't really determine the right response.
And kicking up the alert a notch could cause mass panic...for nothing.
Not that anything can help the WHO. Even if they're right they'll be criticized.
If they're wrong they'll be damned. And there is only one message we need right now.
Don't panic...be PREPARED.