In a typically well informed and thoughtful commentary over at the mega-blog, DailyKos, DemFromCT reminds everyone that just because the media aren’t talking about bird flu and pandemics and just because the candidates are arguing about the economy, the war and whose pastor is worse doesn’t mean that anything has changed. All the elements that alarmed the public health community as far back as 1997 when the first human cases of H5N1 appeared are still there. In some respects we should be more alarmed because so much of what we thought about flu then we now know isn’t the case at all. Learning what you don’t know is terribly important, and learning that what you thought you knew you don’t as much, or maybe more, so. Important, yes. But comforting, no. We have no idea what goes into making a virus “go pandemic” — or not. We don’t know how to spot the signs of an incipient pandemic and only limited and chancy means to spot one that has just gotten underway. We have no ready supply of effective or even potentially effective vaccine for any pandemic strain of influenza, of any subtype. We strongly suspect the only effective antiviral will quickly become less so as the virus develops resistance. And worst of all, instead of getting our public health and social service infrastructures ready and able to withstand any shock to the system, pandemic or something else, we have continued to let them deteriorate to the point that they can no longer cope with flu season, much less a pandemic of any sort, flu or something else.
DemFromCT’s piece surveys what the presidential candidates have or have not said on this subject. It is a must read. But a survey of the comments also shows there remain some intelligent and politically progressive people who disagree this is an issue. I would say to them what I say to climate change deniers: let’s stop arguing about this and do the things we all agree are desirable. No one has to give up some cherished idea about what the true risks of a pandemic are or are not to agree that the public health, medical care and social service infrastructures of many countries, but foremost the United States, are in a shambles. Let’s prepare for a pandemic or anything else by fixing them.
This is fundamentally a matter of political ideology. Those of us on the progressive side of the political spectrum believe that many (but by no means all) problems are best approached by pooling our resources, by helping each other out. We are not of the view that all there is to living a good life, is every tub on its own bottom. Our view carries consequences for strongly held views about property and the absolute freedom to deploy resources for whatever one chooses without necessary regard for any one else’s needs. The Right orders things differently, except, apparently, when it comes to taking my money to fight their wars. For the common good, of course. Our battle with the Right wing is not over the risks of bird flu, but over the more important question of the nature of civic life. Their only means of coping with bird flu is to prepare as individuals, something I have no objection to. But for the rest of us, we also have to prepare to help each other.
If and when the time comes, we need to be willing to help everyone, including those who had no interest in helping us. But we won’t be able to help anyone unless we fix what is so clearly broken.