Thursday, April 30, 2009

Capitalist pig flu

No, this is not a conspiracy theory. The conspiracy theory on current flu - that such an exotic mixture of swine, avian and human flu could not have been natural - has already been raised and defeated by basic science. The respiratory tracts of pigs have receptors for all three types of flu.

But, as has already been noted, the present (and unkosher) swine flu is not really natural either. 53 million pigs existed on a million US farms in 1965. Now its 65 million in 65,000 industrialised food factories.
"This has been a transition from old-fashioned pig pens to vast excremental hells, containing tens of thousands of animals with weakened immune systems suffocating in heat and manure while exchanging pathogens at blinding velocity with their fellow inmates."
As a result circulation of H1N1 flu amongst pigs - the living sucessor to the 1918 pandemic have risen exponentially. The H1N1 virus which was genetically stable has, since the mid 90's, begun mutating at a frightening rate. There has been plenty of warning since then that it was only a matter of time before a killer virus would jump species to us. The most likely origin for the current outbreak is one of the giant pig farms in Mexico. These are owned north of the border and operated south where the labour is cheap and expendable. Here is a concerned recent report from one of the biggest pig factory companies:
"Pork sales grew 19 per cent to $2.06 billion. However, hog-production operating profits fell, because of higher costs and the impact of circovirus infection at a number of production sites. Results for pig production were below a year ago due to higher rising costs and the impact of disease.[...] The company is implementing more vaccination programmes which is making substantial progress in increasing production levels."
Now that tells me two things, not all these poor factory pigs are vaccinated, and vaccination eats into profits. In any case vaccination assumes that the virus is genetically stable - which it no longer is. Additionally, vaccination helps select drug resistant viruses. There is only one real solution: deindustralise pig production, which will almost certainly mean removing the profit motive.

Nevertheless we now have an unknown virus circulating in our species, a virus that none of us have an immunity to and that may mutate into something that kills more readily at any time. Not that it doesn't kill already of course - predominantly the poor in poor countries. In terms of inequality nothing has much changed since the 1918 Spanish flu which killed 20 million Indians alone.

'Our species'.... it would be nice if we could approach things that way. Instead what will probably happen is that the borders with Mexico will be locked and the key thrown away. We setup super pig virus factories in their country, exploit their workforce, ship the profits north and then leave them to their fate.

Worldwide there are 220 million course of Tamiflu, the drug that can help reduce the severity and spread of the flu. Almost all of it is held by the West - 80 million courses held by the UK and the US alone. The reason is its expense and the huge profits it makes for the drugs company that has the patent on it. The Indian government has just announced that it will expand its stocks to 3 million. I don't need to tell you how far that will go in a country with 1.1 billion people

Again there is only one solution - break the patent, manufacture the drug in any way possible and distribute it as widely as possible. Undermine the drug companies profit motive - a position all but endorsed by the World Health Organisation
"WHO's [Director General Dr Margaret] Chan was asked about countries' freedom to break Roche's patent on Tamiflu, an antiviral drug that has proven effective in treating the H1N1 swine flu, in order to manufacture it locally and, presumably, more cheaply.Chan left the door open: "When and what the country is going to decide, it is their decision."
Hear, hear. And in the meantime take control of the entire world's stock of Tamiflu and distribute wherever it is needed the most.

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