A Kind of Medical Apartheid (or How much money are we spending on this swine flu?)

First, take a quick peek at this Gapminder.org video for a general sense of the problem:

Now, this video is from May 2009, after the first few weeks of the initial outbreak, and it also has a focus on media representation, but with the recent worry over potential variants of the H1N1 virus rearing in the next little while, a similar issue has come up.

This time concerning the number of dollars spent on mitigating a potential health crisis.

More specifically: How, if in the face of serious health concerns, can developed countries suddenly find the will to fund major health initiatives (and in this case, for H1N1 which technically exhibits a pathology that is still more or less sorting itself out), and yet let daily health catastrophes be diverted to the sidelines (here, we're talking about neglected diseases like malaria, and TB)

It's not an easy question, but the central idea that most are debating is that whilst it would be irresponsible to not do anything about H1N1, why isn't the same sense of urgency placed on diseases like Malaria, which infects upwards of 200,000 every week. Why isn't our sense of global community strong enough to break the "not my problem" mindset.

Anyway, if this does trouble you, and if you happen to be a university student, staff, faculty - there happens to be a great group that deals with things like access to drugs and neglected disease, known as Universities Allied for Essential Medicines. Worth checking out.

Also, here's a little video (previously shown on this site) about some of the stuff they do (this one is from UBC).

Making medicines for people, not for profit: Mike Gretes from terrytalks on Vimeo.

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I find that I'm hoping that the powers-that-be realize that the H1N1 is actually less likely to get worse during flu season (unlike a "normal" flu, which spreads best in the cooler and drier indoor winter air, this has spread best in hot semitropical Mexico), and are actually using it as a pretext to raise our precaution levels for other flus, which certainly kill more people than the public seems aware of.

If they can't treat it as anything other than a regular flu, despite many indications that it isn't, things will get really bad if that real weirdo virus pandemic comes along.

Your use of the term apartheid in the title is inflammatory and utterly unfounded. An examination of the NIH database demonstrates that hundreds of millions are being spent on malaria and tuberculosis research each year. Moreover, the Gates Foundation has committed billions to vaccination programs, drug distribution, and research. I'm sure that writing this lazy post made you feel better about yourself, but on the ground there are thousands of hard-working people whose efforts you have denigrated.

By Neuro-conservative (not verified) on 10 Sep 2009 #permalink


Before you get all snippy, let me just say that whilst hundreds of millions sounds a lot, it's still a drop in the bucket. And I'm not denigrating the folks who work on neglected diseases - if anything, I'm commending them under the challenged funding scenarios they have to go through. This spoken as someone who does know a thing or two about the funding terrain; someone who trains scientists in West Africa - many of whom do research on malaria and TB; spoken as someone who plays an active role in my own institution's UAEM chapter - a group that is doing its best to highlight the few researchers who are able to obtain such funding, and to push for more.

In fact, I'm quite surprised by your comment. It seems to suggest that you seriously think there is no ethical debate here. That there is no room for discussion in contemplating a system that, for better or for worse, chooses to only spend "hundreds of millions" on malaria and tuberculosis, whereas is fully capable quickly designating billions of dollars on the H1N1 flu (link)

Is there's an element of inequality, of segregation, going on here? If so, isn't that what the term apartheid refers to?

Right on, Dave! This post was an interesting point to make. It also shows how difficult public debate can be. I second your follow-up to Neuro-C's reply but maybe should leave it to others to counter his use of personal slurs by noting the arrogance and embarrassing weak-mindedness of his last sentence.