Politics and Medicine

Politics and Medicine

“Medicine is a social science, and politics is nothing else but medicine on a large scale”—Rudolf Virchow

Politics is defined as “organised human behaviour”, thus we can postulate that Medicine is micro managed organised human behaviour, at times right down to the molecular level. If we examine the Ebola outbreak/s (globally) and how it is being managed on a macro (politics) and micro scale (medicine) we can begin to see the cracks in the system, and hopefully then move to addressing these cracks, before they begin yawning chasms that are not repairable.

The region (Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea) has had success (we could add Nigeria and Senegal to the successes) and failures in both areas. Neither is Spain and the USA exempt from this analysis as can be noted from the various press releases (government and medical) over the past few months.

Since the first outbreaks in 1976 (Sudan and The DRC) till the current one in West Africa; care has generally been palliative and symptomatic, questions have often been asked during this period; What of a vaccine and/or other means of treating the infected patients? There was a report in the British Sunday Times (12/10/14), cited a Cambridge University zoologist as saying that “it is quite possible to design a vaccine against this disease” but reported that applications to conduct further research on Ebola were rebuffed because “nobody has been willing to spend the twenty million pounds or so needed to get vaccines through trial and production”. Globally this has been one of the failures of the pharmaceutical companies, and most probably even the WHO, for not pushing harder over the years to get this in motion.

In her 1994 book The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance Laurie Garrett: warned that there are more than 21 million people on earth “living under conditions ideal for microbial emergence.” Garrett when on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 for reporting on Ebola. In 1995 Joshua Lederberg, the American molecular biologist said: “The world is just one village. Our tolerance of disease in any place is at our own peril. Are we better off today than we were a century ago? In most respects, we’re worse off. We have been neglectful of the microbes, and that is a recurring theme that is coming back to haunt us.”

Jump forward to the 23rd of September 2014, US President Obama issued an unprecedented ‘Presidential Memorandum on civil society  recognising that:

Through civil society, citizens come together to hold their leaders accountable and address challenges that governments cannot tackle alone. Civil society organisations…often drive innovations and develop new ideas and approaches to solve social, economic, and political problems that governments can apply on a larger scale.

If we look at the current crises in West Africa civic leaders are what is missing, hence the inability to track and trace potential infected persons, motivate communities to change risky behaviours (handing of the deceased), agitate with government to create better health care systems, this all adds fuel to the fire of the current epidemic.

Have we listened and learnt as governments, NGO’s and Multinational Pharmacare companies since then?

Despite Medical Advances, Millions Are Dying, this is a banner from 1996, not 2014! from the WHO, which was “declaring a global crisis and warning that no country is safe from infectious diseases, the World Health Organization says in a new report that diseases such as AIDS, Ebola, Hanta, Mad Cow, tuberculosis, etc., killed more than 17 MILLION people worldwide last year”.

As Laurie Garrett wrote in her the closing section of her book, The Coming Plague, “In the end, it seems that American journalist I.F. Stone was right when he said, ‘Either we learn to live together or we die together.’ While the human race battles itself, fighting over ever more crowded turf and scarcer resources, the advantage moves to the microbes’ court. They are our predators, and they will be victorious if we, Homo sapiens, do not learn how to live in a rational global village that affords the microbes few opportunities. It’s either that or we brace ourselves for the coming plague.”

Time is short.

The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is “unquestionably the most severe acute public health emergency in modern times,” Dr. Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organization, said Monday 20/10/2014). We do seem to be going in circles… circa 1995.. have we learnt nothing from history.

Sooner or later we learn to throw the past away History will teach us nothing Sting – Musician, singer-songwriter

Where have all the people gone, long time passing?

Where have all the people gone, long time ago?

Where have all the people gone?

Gone to graveyards, everyone.
 Oh, when will they ever learn?

Oh, when will they ever learn?

Pete Seeger – American folk singer and activist

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