So far, swine flu hasn't developed into the deadly global pandemic that many feared. Was it all media hype, as Cervantes argues for AlterNet? Or did all that quarantining and hand-washing actually help? While we'll never know what might have been, perhaps we should consider the relatively mild swine flu as a cheap lesson -- a dry run, if you will.
The swine flu scare underscores the need for strong public health infrastructure, writes Amitabh Pal in the Progressive:
"When the flu began taking its toll, Mexico didn’t have a single facility to test for the virus, and so samples had to be sent to the United States and Canada. Mexican health officials were slow to pick up on the initial outbreak of the disease, and, by the government’s own admission, still have not been able to reach out to the public in an effective manner."
Pal argues that Mexico's healthcare system is in disarray in part because of international pressure from to decrease the government's role in healthcare in accordance with the prevailing free-market ideology.
Laura Carlsen of New America Media also worries about the health fallout from globalization, arguing that NAFTA helped swine flu. According to Carlsen, globalization created a perfect storm for the development and spread of an epidemic flu in Mexico -- a rapid shift to factory farming, the breakdown of public health infrastructure, and accelerated flow of people and goods across the border.
Americans shouldn't be smug about our own state of readiness. In the American Prospect, Harold Pollack takes "moderate" senators to to task for pinching pennies on public health:
"Throughout, our key opponents were moderate senators who had no problem supporting the usual giveaways to powerful constituencies, yet who balked at spending small amounts on useful but unsexy measures to prevent sexually transmitted infections, promote family planning, help people quit smoking, finance substance-abuse treatment, and, yes, prepare to fight pandemic flu. In a $2.4 trillion health-care economy dominated by personal medical services, it once again proved nearly impossible to channel public investments into population-level activities that are often much more cost-effective."
Just because this particular epidemic didn't spread, that doesn't mean that a deadly influenza virus couldn't emerge in the future. In fact it's a virtual certainty that such outbreaks will continue to happen, as they have at unpredictable intervals throughout human history.
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders (I) argues that the new Democratic super-majority in the Senate, created by Arlen Specter's PARTY SWITCH, is a golden opportunity to achieve national healthcare. "Clearly the United States needs to join the rest of the industrialized world with a real national healthcare program that guarantees comprehensive healthcare to every man, woman and child -- and we save money as we do that," Sanders told Ed Schultz. Watch the clip, via Chelsea Green:
Finally, Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones raises questions about the safety of NuvaRing, a novel contraceptive technology from Schering Plough that promises the benefits of hormonal birth control without the hassle of taking a pill. However, more than 100 lawsuits blame Nuva for serious side effects, including deadly blood clots:
"Making birth control easier is, of course, a good thing. But for years there have been serious safety questions about the "third generation" hormones used in NuvaRing and several other contraceptives on the market—questions that NuvaRing's labeling sidesteps by saying that it is "unknown" how the device compares to other hormonal birth control."
It's been an eventful week in healthcare. We failed to beef up public health earlier this year because some legislators lacked a sense of urgency, but prevention seems a lot more pressing in light of our brush with swine flu. Before Specter's defection, it seemed like healthcare might never pass the Senate, but now there's at least a hope of breaking a filibuster if the Democrats can hammer out their internal differences. We've got a long way to go on public health and healthcare reform, but we passed some important milestones this week .
By Lindsay Beyerstein, TMC MediaWire Blogger. This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care.
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