11 May 2008

Avian Influenza or H5N1

Fortunately, this nasty little virus has not become the pandemic that everyone supposedly in the know thought that it might! However, this is not the end of the story but merely the beginning as the potential remains and questions remain as to whether Indonesia and others have been accurately reporting avian influenza deaths. Instead of calling this thing its scientific name or the somewhat pompous avian influenza, I am just going to call it bird flu!

History has seen an earlier form of bird flu that was either called chicken flu or the Spanish Flu. The Spanish Flu was thought to have originated in the battlefields of the First World War and migrated from chickens to a mutant strain into humans. The number crunchers are whacking out the scary statistics that if this thing was to take off then it could conceivably kill up to 3 billion people. Now, there is one way to ensure population control and turn back the effects of global warming!


This brings us to Indonesia's claim of some kind of intellectual property rights over the bird flu virus and that if anyone wants samples of the virus then they must pay by the Indonesian Health Minister. This seems to say to her fellow citizens that we do not care whether you live or die but we are going to ensure that we make a few dollars at your expense.


She then trots out the argument of the big bad west and the fact that they are trying to rape and pillage Indonesia's intellectual property and profit from it! If Indonesia has the ability to develop medicines and drugs to treat bird flu then it should do it and profit from it if it can. However, the reality would seem to suggest that Indonesia does not think that it can do this and is therefore now seeking to sell samples.


It is at this point the story takes a truly bizarre and perhaps disturbing turn. The Health Minister publishes a book and by a number of accounts Health Department funds were thrown at the task. The truly bizarre and disturbing part is not so much the claim that WHO and large pharmaceutical companies are conspiring to defraud developing countries of their rights but the idea that the west is desperately seeking samples of Indonesian bird flu in order to develop a biological weapon that might be used against Indonesia in the future...


Stupid, stupid, stupid conspiracy theory with absolutely no grounds based in even the slightest realities of current geo-political relationships! These kind of xenophobic conspiracy theories do nothing but stoke the fires of hatred. These are fires of hatred that Indonesians, not just foreigners, should fear and loathe. These things also only serve to perpetuate the hatred and stereotypes that some people hold of others.


The fact that the Indonesian government has remained relatively silent on this book is of some concern as the question that arises is, "is this silence in fact an endorsement of the views of the Health Minister?" To be fair the book was withdrawn temporarily and many believed much of the xenophobic vitriol and the idea that bird flu is the work of God would be removed (redacted) from this tome. The idea that Allah gave Indonesia the deadliest strain of bird flu to date in order that Indonesia could make money off of it is as ludicrous as it is offensive to those that have already died from infection with the virus. However, it allegedly reappeared pretty much in tact and with some words of encouragement from the President.


I must be honest and admit that I have not bought the book and do not intend to (if someone wants to give me copy then they can). I have been following this primarily in the news and my comments here are interpretations of what I have read. I, therefore, encourage you to read them in that context.


As as side note perhaps it is worth noting that conspiracy theories abound in the supposed dark world of pharmaceutical development where men and women in suits sit in high-rise office buildings developing sinister plans to keep the world sick in order to maximize profits.


Similar conspiracy theory type arguments have been trotted out with regard to HIV/AIDS. The idea that pharmaceuticals stand to make more money out of treatment than they ever would out of cure. Simply, the conspiracy theory goes that allowing people to remain sick is more profitable in the long term than being able to cure them. It is my belief that the Indonesian Health Minister has done nothing than adopt this view and change the virus to H5N1.

7 comments:

Harry said...

I think it's another case of media sensationalism.

For example, the main problem with the birdflu sample is that we sent the sample, then it's gone.
It went back in form of expensive medicine. Which is beyond financial reach of most Indonesians.

They won't allow us to make a generic / cheap version of it.

The Health Minister is enraged with this. So she did something.

Actually this is standard practice for many big pharma companies all over the world. I remember reading similar articles on AIDS - about how many Africans suffer because big pharma won't allow creation of generic / cheap version of its medicine for the poor.

Anyway, due to media twists, it became as if the health minister is in it or money, and she's a crazy conspiracy theorist lunatic.

The fact is, she spearheaded many initiatives which help the poor. Generic medicine (Rp 1000 / 10 cents medicine), cheap / free hospital cost for the poor, and many other.
This is unheard of from previous health ministers.

Some of the media today is, sadly, only in it for the money. No regard to the sake of people. They will even censor themselves to help their stakeholders' business interest. It's really sad to see "kebebasan pers" had fallen to "kebablasan pers" (a concern also voiced by the activists who has fought for the right to freedom of speech for the media several years ago)

Rob Baiton said...

Harry...

Perhaps so! Let's face it sensationalism sells and boring stories do not!

However,to some degree I agree with you that potentially pharmaceutical companies can screw you big time. Although, I would say this, I did not have so much of a problem with Indonesia making a dollar or two out of the virus, but I do have some concerns if this is at the expense of the health of a vast majority of Indonesians...

So, I am in fact with you on the idea that generic forms of the drug should be made available across the board!

I also found the idea that this is a "date from heaven" scenario quite absurd in that God / Allah gave a particularly virulent strain of bird flu to Indonesia in order that Indonesia exploit it commercially :D

I also had a chuckle over the idea that the West wants this particular strain of the virus to develop a biological weapon that it intends to deploy against Indonesia or Muslims more generally. If this is in fact true (that is it was said) then there are not a lot of ways you can spin it to make it look less kooky and anything but a conspiracy theory.

On what she has achieved. I think a more serious study of the record might suggest that she has been far from being as successful as you tend to suggest. Nevertheless, to each his own and I think if we wanted to we could spin her record any way that we wanted in order to prove our respective points of view.

Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment or two...

Harry said...

sensationalism sells and boring stories do not!

Excellent point Rob. I guess we should really blame ourselves for the current situation.


I also had a chuckle over the idea that the West wants this particular strain of the virus to develop a biological weapon that it intends to deploy against Indonesia or Muslims more generally. If this is in fact true (that is it was said) then there are not a lot of ways you can spin it to make it look less kooky and anything but a conspiracy theory.

At first I'd find it absurd too, until I remember that US gov't doesn't hesitate to use such weapon against their own people / soldiers.

If they can do that, logically they'd be able to do that to others as well.

The immunity enjoyed by NAMRU doesn't help with this situation.

I also found the idea that this is a "date from heaven" scenario quite absurd in that God / Allah gave a particularly virulent strain of bird flu to Indonesia in order that Indonesia exploit it commercially :D

OK, I must admit that I haven't heard this bit :)
That is pretty embarrassing to say the least. It reminds me of those disillusioned religious leaders on "kingdom of heaven" yelling "God wills it !!" as if they have discussed it with God personally.

That is absolutely unnecessary, and it's understandable if it causes others to judge her as uncredible.

On what she has achieved. I think a more serious study of the record might suggest that she has been far from being as successful as you tend to suggest. Nevertheless, to each his own and I think if we wanted to we could spin her record any way that we wanted in order to prove our respective points of view.

That wasn't my intention, I was only trying to discuss whatever facts we have at hands.

A bit of background story - I have helped several ministers to have their blog up & running.
Believe it or not, they got routinely ignored or assassinated by the media.

This is ministers we're talking about. No any ordinary people.

They even held press conferences to clear their name and clarify the issues.
The media however didn't publish it - effectively silencing them.

Met one of them and he discussed about how bad the situation is. They want to do good, but the media is killing them.
Turned out they're going against the business interest of some of the media's stockholders.

Only then I realized & understand how hard it is to do good for this country.

Even if you're the president, and you have made excellent achievements - if you angered the elites in the process, you can expect to be pulled down by your own people (who has been misled by the mass media), the very people you have helped.

That's a story from behind the screen. Not everyone know it, and even that is probably still far from being a complete picture.

The story on health minister is that she's the mother of my friend. And I know she's good.
But people can change, the media can misled us, books can fail to convey the whole story, and so on.

I personally trust her, but I'll continue to verify her (and others) stories.
Blindly trusting anyone will benefit no one.

Rob Baiton said...

Harry...

Thanks for disclosing the interest...I did not say she was bad and I do not know her personally and therefore would not consider myself to be in a position to comment on any motivations.

Nevertheless, I also accept that there is always an agenda and that the media often has an agenda that it requires its staff to follow -- there's a good doco on Fox and the manipulation of news. I was merely commenting on what is reported and that if it is in fact true then some of the things reported are a little bit out there...

Men and women are capable of great evil, no doubt about it. Yep, Americans did some nasty stuff on their own as did Australians and the British too! Even so the idea of the WHO on behalf of the US or the US itself pursuing this particular strand of bird flu for a biological weapon is out there, way out there!

In my own defense I said it was a conspiracy theory and soem conspiracies may just in fact one day turn out to be true!

If the media is against Ministers, then this it the beauty of the Internet as they can put out on their own sites what they consider to be the truth! Perhaps you could help the embattled Health Minister to clear up her message? I could but I would have to be employed as a consultant and then paid as such! :D

Once again, thanks for stopping by and commenting!

LavanyaLea said...

the initial concern was, as you said, that we keep sending our samples for the West to develop drugs, and when they do... we won't be able to afford it. i think the WHO should do more on this, since afterall our failures to eradicate bird flu would only increase the potential for a world pandemic to happen!

as for cheaper versions of the drug, Roche currently has the patent for Tamiflu, but an Indian drug company has started synthesising a generic version of the drug, oseltamivir, and since a couple of years ago generic oseltamivir has been made in vietnam, thailand, china, etc.

it's a bit selfish to with-hold these samples, especially when they could help tackle a world problem, and worse off she was trying to make money of it! somehow in my opinion it falls in the same category as the trading of human organs.

but prevention is always better than cure, and with regard to this.. our health minister has failed us. the only way to make sure bird flu doesn't come back to us is to do a bird culling, with decent compensation. a few years ago, vietnam was badly hit by bird flu, much worse than indonesia, but they've got it sorted now. it won't be cheap, but it'll be cheaper, and better, in the long run.

on a side note, the main problem with public health is the so called "10/90 gap": less than 10% of the world resources for health research is spent on health problems in developing countries, where more than 90% of the world's health burden lies. and drug companies are only interested in research that is profitable.

ps: she seems to have a rather explicit xenophobia, if i remember correctly she forbid the infamous "Tree Man" to seek medical help in the US, no?

Rob Baiton said...

Lavanyalea...

Thanks for dropping by and posting a comment...

I don't recall whether she prevented the "tree man" from going overseas for treatment. I can think of only two reasons that she would:

1. It would be tantamount to a confession that Indonesia does not have the trained human resources in place to treat certain diseases and letting the poor fella go overseas would acknowledge that Indonesia is still developing in the sense of quality health care; or

2. She was worried that the US and other nasty western States only wanted to develop a biological weapon which they were then going to launch at Indonesia with a view to turning all people resident here into tree people!

I tend to think the first one but you can never be sure when we are talking about politicians!

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