Socialist Worker

Labour in panic about swne flu pandemic

Issue No. 2161

More than 700 people have died from H1N1 swine flu around the world so far.

The British government is in crisis-management mode—its announcement of hotlines follows contradictory advice for pregnant women.

Adding to the confusion, Labour health minister Andy Burnham said, “Cases are doubling every week, and on this trend we could see more than 100,000 cases per day by the end of August.”

While the increase in the number of cases is real and worrying, on Burnham’s rapidly expanding figues, Britain would see 26 million new cases of swine flu a day by the end of October!

It is slightly easier to understand that the effect of privatisation and bed shortages in the NHS make the effects of the flu far worse than they need to be.

Put simply, hotlines are not a substitute for properly funded hospitals and surgeries.

The corporate pursuit of profits is shaping the swine flu pandemic.

There is immense lobbying from US agribusiness to find a non-pig source for the illness, preferably in Asia.

US food companies, worried about scrutiny of food production, are investing in scientific research to prove that the H1N1 strain of flu didn’t come from factory farming.

Corporate interests have also shaped the global response to the threat. Shares in drug companies have risen throughout the outbreak.

The pharmaceutical giants concentrate on producing anti-virals such as Tamiflu that stem the symptoms of the disease, but only work with early treatment.

There is less profit in producing the more effective vaccines because of the way the flu virus evolves and changes—meaning a new vaccine is needed for each different strain of flu.

Even where there is vaccine research, it is skewed by the priorities of the system.

For instance, as part of George Bush’s “war on terror”, research money was diverted into vaccines for terrorist threats instead of flu vaccines.

As with all major diseases, the impact and spread of swine flu is shaped by profit and poverty.

In one example of how workers can respond London Underground unions have produced leaflets outlining facts about swine flu and putting demands to make their workplace safe. Others should do the same. The leaflet is available here » RMT/TSSA leaflet [172kb]


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Tue 21 Jul 2009, 18:32 BST
Issue No. 2161
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