Socialist Worker

Avian flu: a preventable pandemic

by Mike Davis
Issue No. 1973

Avian influenza is the undocumented immigrant from hell that the EU will not be able to turn away from its borders.

The H5N1 virus, like other present and future plagues of globalisation, exposes the biological absurdity and moral vacuity of the concept of “fortress Europe”.

Wild birds have brought H5N1 to the gates of Europe, and those same birds will soon carry the seeds of a pandemic to the poor megacities of Africa and South Asia.

If avian flu and urban poverty combust, then it won’t matter whether all the chickens in Europe are sleeping indoors or not. The pandemic, like Sars before it, will be on the next plane to Rome, London or New York.

The majority of the world’s flu vaccine capacity and all of its current production of Tamiflu — theantiviral agent that rich countries are desperately stockpiling — are concentrated in Europe.

But these resources are fetter-ed by corporate property rights and narrow national self-interest. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has abandoned hopes of a world vaccine programme because of the unwillingness of the EU and US to make the required commitments.

When Thailand and South Africa raised the question of the generic licensing of Tamiflu at a WHO meeting earlier in the year, France and the US joined forces to squelch the challenge to drug giant Roche’s monopoly over manufacture of the drug.

Yet the global surveillance campaign against H5N1 is currently faltering because the same governments refuse to donate the almost trivial amounts of aid requested by poor frontline countries like Vietnam.

The challenge to the left is to mobilise Europe’s scientific capabilities on behalf of humanity as a whole. Neither epidemiological nationalism nor idiot reverence for profits should override the urgency of global solidarity in face of the pandemic danger.

Our survival demands a massive aid programme to support flu surveillance in poor countries, as well as a free, global lifeline of vaccines, antivirals and antibiotics as a human right.

Mike Davis is author of The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu, available from Bookmarks

See also his 2004 feature from SW, warning of the threat A deadly plague of slums

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Sat 22 Oct 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1973
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