Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: There is History

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  • giovanni tiso,

    Unless of course someone can point me in the direction of an NZ Herald front page story about the 200,000 kids in South Asia who died of waterborn diseases in 2007. No, I thought not.

    No, of course not. But isn't that a deeply rooted problem that goes far beyond the coverage of health matters. I mean, the other day a guy killed thirteen people in a university shooting but it happened in Azerbaijan, so nobody round here cared. Had it happened in the States - which is also nowhere near NZ - it would have been a front page story in the Herald. What is known in the Northern Emisphere as 'the South', but really encompasses much of the east as well, is systematically ignored. I'm sure that living in Indonesia you have a keen appreciation of this, so please don't take this as condescending.

    But it applies across the board: wars, diseases, school shootings, the works. It is lamentable and worth lamenting at every available occasion, but does not make the prospect of a pandemic any less important to report on. And billions spent on preparedness and prevention of bird flu and swine flu are most emphatically *not* wasted even from a second and third world perspective. They are everybody's insurance policy. Equally, discussion of how to remove these dangers from poor countries is not idle. These scares are opportunities to rethink a lot of stuff, and incidentally they are also the times when we do hear a bit about the forgotten diseases of this world.

    But at the end of the day, do you want more money to fight dengue? Let's subtract it from research on erectile disfunction, or hair loss. Those are the true skewed priorities in medicine.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7315 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    Unless we can see it on our TV screens it doesn't exist.

    Since Nov 2006 • 855 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    And billions spent on preparedness and prevention of bird flu and swine flu are most emphatically *not* wasted even from a second and third world perspective. They are everybody's insurance policy

    I'm not necessarily taking issue with much of what you say but panics like bird flu and this current fuss (and yes, panic), which has generated untold billions of bytes in the past week (which is about all it is...it seems like endless months) do take money and emphasis away from the things that really do matter to those that most need them right now....vanity research doesn't in that it's mostly private. The threat of bird flu was an interesting one..those most likely to be heavily impacted by it were less concerned than those who weren't...simply because once you left the research labs of the developed world it became increasingly obvious that it was a very low immediate risk.

    Education programmes funded by WHO here in Indonesia moved their focus from teaching folks to wash their hands and destroying mosquitos to warning them to watch out for their chickens. There is only so much money and time go around and these panics cause a re-prioritising to suit our Western feelings.

    I'd like to think that Swine and Bird flu have put a little more of magnifier on the plagues that swirl through Mexico and South Asia but I'm thinking that as this thing leaves the twitter and google hot lists, nothing much will change.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3185 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Hard to quarrel with any of that.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7315 posts Report Reply

  • mark taslov,

    Experts warned the virus could mutate and come back with a vengeance.

    Because it could.

    "with a vengeance". That's a little more personification than I can take with my morning coffee.

    your taxed dollar • Since Mar 2008 • 1293 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    But a pandemic will come, and it will hit disproportionately the people who are now dying of forgotten diseases like malaria and the measles. So it doesn't actually do those people any service at all to dismiss this event like a media beat-up.

    When the media cries wolf - which is pretty much what's been happening of late - it undermines preparedness for real future pandemics. While coverage of the 2002-3 SARS outbreak was hardly the fourth estate's finest hour, compared to the present unfocused sensationalism it seems relatively responsible. In a time of huge evolutionary media changes and likely mass extinctions of old institutions, the ability to disseminate clear and trustworthy information in a genuine emergency seems seriously threatened.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3291 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    When the media cries wolf - which is pretty much what's been happening of late

    Yes, except... no. It's not what happened at all. If somebody has been crying wolf it's the WHO, and a bunch of the world's leading virologists, and I doubt they did that either. I think Goldacre had this exactly right in the article quoted upthread.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7315 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    Yes, except... no. It's not what happened at all.

    Ah . . . so, for example, "Nick Smith stricken with suspected Coughing Pig Death" isn't alarmist nonsense. I stand corrected.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3291 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    Yes, except... no. It's not what happened at all.

    Ah . . . so, for example, "Nick Smith stricken with suspected Coughing Pig Death" isn't alarmist nonsense. I stand corrected.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3291 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Like Goldacre said - you'll always find a quota of vaudeville in the media. But that doesn't mean there was no story or that it was a beat-up. And in general I've found the coverage a lot more sane and balanced than the coverage of most other things - although it has to be said I don't watch the news on the telly. But now I'm beginning to sound like a broken record so I'm going to leave it there.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7315 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    And in general I've found the coverage a lot more sane and balanced than the coverage of most other things -

    When 'most other things' consists of 'Editor's picks' such as Linsey Lohan's latest tattoo, well naturally. The 'element of vaudeville' you describe has been centre stage for some time now.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3291 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Perhaps, but it seems that a lot of people have taken the vaudeville as a demonstration that it was a beat up. That's what gets me really. (I know, I said I was going to leave it there.)

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7315 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    If somebody has been crying wolf it's the WHO, and a bunch of the world's leading virologists, and I doubt they did that either.

    If not crying wolf I can't help feeling that they are playing to this as much as anyone. The governmental pressure, coming from public panic must be immense.

    Then we get things like this:

    THE World Health Organisation is poised to declare a global swine flu pandemic, despite suggestions by scientists that the H1N1 virus may be no more dangerous than the average seasonal flu and confidence in Mexico that the outbreak is easing.

    So they push the panic levels wee bit higher, just in case. Because further down that same page we are told:

    "This might not be any more virulent than normal seasonal flu infections. We feel reassured that if this develops into a pandemic, it might not be a particularly severe one," Mr Hay said.

    Scientists are encouraged by analyses of the DNA sequence of the virus, which has found it lacks the traits that led to the death of nearly 50 million people in the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak.

    A senior consultant who has been treating swine flu victims said: "The way they are talking, you would think our culture is collapsing. This time last week, we were all incredibly worried because the reports from Mexico were that hospitals were full and people were dying all over the place. Actually, it doesn't seem to be that severe. The symptoms are unpleasant -- fevers, shivering, aches -- but no worse than normal seasonal flu."

    WHO medical health officer Nikki Shindo said the biggest concern was that the virus could mutate and become resistant to Tamiflu. The US Centres for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, says 98 per cent of existing H1 flu strains were resistant to Tamiflu in the last flu season.

    So it's no worse than the flu we've all learned to live with, but we''ll keep on ramping it anyway. It might mutate (or it might not). And we need to be vigilant. Agreed.

    Myself, I'd like to see how it got this far without the evidence to support the conclusions that seemed to have been drawn by people we trust to know better. Surely someone should've, given the dire over projections of the past few year from WHO and their directors, asked for a little more than what we now know were clearly inconclusive results from Mexico.

    Oh, and in 1918 we flew in these and if we needed surgery this is where (a very fortunate few) would've found ourselves. Even in much of the third world medical science has advanced quite somewhat over the best part of a century ago.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3185 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    The 'element of vaudeville' you describe has been centre stage for some time now.

    But nowhere more than with Indonesia's Health minister whose statements here are pretty firm evidence that, in this country at least, intellect is not a prerequisite for higher office.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3185 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    Experts warned the virus could mutate and come back with a vengeance.

    As a person who gets pissed off the media headlining with uninformed people with no qualifications all the time, it'd be a little hypocritical for me to bitch about them giving lots of space to "people who have qualifications and jobs that mean they allowed to say what they want in this field".

    It takes the focus one step further away from the real problems facing people day to day in the developing and still to be developing world.

    Yes. It's also interesting to note that we're not especially concerned with how its affecting Mexico, our prime concern is once it crosses into the 1st world and starts to affect us. Poorer countries can have all their diseases, as long as they keep them to themselves.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6145 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Poorer countries can have all their diseases, as long as they keep them to themselves.

    And they keep sending the pork to us. I'm doing some reading on the food conglomerate behind those mega pig farms and it's... juicy stuff.

    Happened with Argentina too, didn't it? The West obsessed about the pandemic of defaulting bonds, but I didn't hear too much concern for the Argentineans themselves.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7315 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    Nobody seems to be showing much concern for the cute little kune kune piglets. Those cuuute little piglets.

    Since Nov 2006 • 2289 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    Those cuuute little piglets.

    Hogwash. Those cuties grow up to resemble some mediaeval concept of the antichrist. Left unsupervised they'll cheerfully devour their arguably cuter nominal cousins, the guinea pigs.

    Swine fever at a Japanese petting zoo:

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3291 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie,

    Those cuuute little piglets.

    Hogwash. Those cuties grow up to resemble some mediaeval concept of the antichrist. Left unsupervised they'll cheerfully devour their arguably cuter nominal cousins, the guinea pigs.

    Swine fever at a Japanese petting zoo:

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3291 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen,

    The joy of hindsight

    Myself, I'd like to see how it got this far without the evidence to support the conclusions that seemed to have been drawn by people we trust to know better.

    Two weeks ago there was no way to know this wasn't deadly serious. And reports from Mexico while confused suggest it indeed was serious. Please don't beat these guys with your hindsight.

    Surely someone should've, given the dire over projections of the past few year from WHO and their directors, asked for a little more than what we now know were clearly inconclusive results from Mexico.

    There is no time for that with flu. You ask and investigate BUT at the same time you must prepare for the worst.

    Consider it like a Tsunami warning, you detect the earthquake and send a Tsunami warning immediately, which you can later retract after investigation. Any other action is foolish.

    Oh, and in 1918 we flew in these and if we needed surgery this is where (a very fortunate few) would've found ourselves. Even in much of the third world medical science has advanced quite somewhat over the best part of a century ago.

    Yes you are right but it has NOTHING to do with the lethality of cytokine storms which is what killed in 1918.

    Remember this from 2006

    Our best medicine can just, sometimes, maybe keep someone alive through a cytokine storm but it takes luck and the absolute best ICU. 1918 flu is just as lethal now as it was back in 1918, our current medicine cannot help much at all and a pandemic of 1918 strain would have a very similar death rate. That's why they were shitting bricks.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3115 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    The joy of hindsight

    It has nothing whatsoever to do with hindsight. There were quite a number of educated voices urging caution from day one, but they were largely ignored. When it was clear within a day or so that the claims coming out of Mexico were suspect and perhaps rather overstated, still the clamour continued for the best part of two weeks with a snowball effect of increasing insanity. And WHO played an unfortunate role in that and, looking at that link I posted, still seem unable to let it go.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3185 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Meanwhile, first cases of the virus spreading from humans to pigs, in Canada. Not that the eminent epidemiologists and virologists on this thread should feel any concern, naturally.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7315 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    Meanwhile, first cases of the virus spreading from humans to pigs, in Canada. Not that the eminent epidemiologists and virologists on this thread should feel any concern, naturally.

    it seems the eminent epidemiologists and virologists anywhere seem rather unconcerned about this, so I'm not sure why we should be winding ourselves up again, although the latter is not unlikely given recent events.

    Apparently it's rather common.

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3185 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Grigg,

    Eminent person speaks to the public on April 26 when there were already question marks over what was coming out of Mexico:

    The death toll of the H1N1 virus could reach 50million – as high as the Spanish Flu of 1918, according to John McCauley, of the National Institute For Medical Research.

    He claimed the virus – a contagious respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza – is much more similar to the Spanish Flu than the feared H5N1 bird flu.

    'It could be a similar death rate to back in 1918,' he said.

    ohh, now that's not going to cause a mild panic, is it?

    Just another klong... • Since Nov 2006 • 3185 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso,

    Apparently it's rather common.

    Apparently, I give up.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7315 posts Report Reply

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