Those of you who are sufficiently long in the tooth may remember Ronald Reagan's frequent remarks on extraterrestrials, as thus:
"[I]n our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think, how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.Isn't it pretty to think so? Obviously, the "universal threat" of the H5N1 virus is far too mundane to make the world's nation's act sensibly, let alone to unite them.
Dr. Henry Niman at Recombinomics reports that governments are underreporting H5N1 fatalities:
:The active exclusion of these obvious cases diminishes the utility of the fatality tallies and now the deficient database is being used to make comments and comparisons that are simply not supported by the facts. The faulty database covers up the clear deficiencies in the monitoring of the disease and the artificially low numbers are faithfully cited in media reports on a daily basis.It's hard not to be reminded of the Chinese government's attempt to cover up SARS cases a couple of years back, or San Francisco's attempt to cover up the presence of bubonic plague in the early 1900s. It never works, but that doesn't seem to stop people from trying.
Whether this underreporting is purposeful, or simply a matter of incompetence, it's totally unacceptable. Granted, countries like Vietnam and Laos lack money and equipment to do proper epidemiological work. But that's as much our fault as theirs; these countries constitute the rest of the world's first line of defense against H5N1. Vietnam has asked the West for help, and its plea has been rather stingily answered:
The European Commission in Vietnam says it will provide $782,100 to buy laboratory equipment and emergency preparedness kits for patient care and to assist health care workers.That's an astonishingly small amount of money, I'd say.
Here in the United States:
President Bush's budget for 2006 cuts spending for a wide range of public health programs, including several to protect the nation against bioterrorist attacks and to respond to medical emergencies, budget documents show.Meanwhile, in Oregon, geese are falling out of the sky. All in all, it's the perfect time to cut public-health funding.