Monday, March 29, 2010

Pigs not flying - official

Porkies by Pants

WHO would be an advisor on health issues? Underestimate the risks and you end up with lots of dead people. Over-egg the omelette and you could get lumbered with a huge stockpile of expensive medicine with a rapidly advancing use-by date. Not a popular splurge in an election year, especially if you already have a blow-out budget. But then there is always the WHO, who would be that hypothetical health advisor. Confused? You ought to be.

Consider the predicament of the UK government where a Department of Health estimate in 2009 of 65,000 swine flu deaths over the winter materialised in a paltry 360. Good news for the 64,640 souls who are still with us but not so great for the government that panicked because someone - not mentioning any names, well all right, THE WHO - said all of humanity was in peril.

A draft report commissioned by the Council of Europe accuses the World Health Organisation of wildly overestimating the threat. The report is authored by a British Labour MP who is also vice-chair of the Council's health committee. No conflict of interest there then. It suggests that some of the experts who advised the WHO on mass vaccinations are recipients of funding from the pharmaceutical companies who make those very vaccines. Sleaze usually trumps incompetence in political malfeasance. As last ditch efforts go, it's crude but shrewd.

Europe is a funny animal. It contains some countries whose attitude to human life could best be described as cavalier. They're easy to spot. Just look for the ones with no egg on their faces.

Here in Australia we have a slightly different problem. We are just coming into the flu season and there is enough vaccine for every single person in the country and we are also in an election year. Health authorities have already instigated a 'while stocks last' campaign to empty the medicine chest before polling day. The approach is more stitch-in-time than Chicken Licken. Swine flu is still around and as many deaths as last year are expected - i.e. not very many at all. But you don't want to be one of them so get yourself to the clinic now, is the message being transmitted. Guilt-tripping plays well in Australia too. A good citizen should not want to be responsible for spreading the disease, so let's all do our bit for herd immunity, appears to be the gist.

The political objective is clear and utterly plausible - to get everyone vaccinated before the winter sets in. That way the government can take credit for the small number of deaths while extending its heartfelt grief to the tiny proportion who succumbed through no fault of their own or the government's. It worked with the economy. And if take up is low one can always blame the WHO for getting it wrong in the first place.

Conclusion : politics is easier than medicine.