People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIII

No. 35

August 30, 2009

How the Swine Flu Spread

 

Yohannan Chemarapally

 

 

IT was Fidel Castro in one of his “Reflections” who brought to the attention of the world the fact that the Mexican authorities kept the spread of the H1NI virus a secret for a critical period of time. The reason the Mexican authorities did so was to ensure that the visit of the American president, Barak Obama to their country in mid April went ahead as scheduled. The Associated Press had reported that “Obama’s April 16 visit came a week before Mexican officials announced that Swine Flu was spreading, prompting an eventual mass shutdown that brought many parts of the country to a virtual halt”. The news agency in the same report quoted from an article in the reputed journal “Science” that suggested that the epidemic could have started “anywhere between November 3 to March 2”.

 

Fidel in another of his “Reflections” delved on the article in “Science” magazine that had concluded that the symptoms of the swine flu were already appearing in late March, five weeks before the official announcement about the outbreak of the epidemic. “A study published in the journal Science estimated Mexico alone may have had 23,000 cases of swine flu by April 23, the day it announced the epidemic”, wrote Fidel in his Reflections dated May 15.  

 

In the last week of April, the WHO director general, Margaret Chan, declared that the swine flu was a full fledged pandemic. She said that in such a scenario, “all of humanity is under a threat”. In July, the WHO said that two billion of the world’s population could be affected by H1N1 in the next two years. According to the organisation, the swine flu virus has spread to 160 countries in the last four months. Many scientific bodies and medical professionals disagreed with the WHO’s classification of the H1N1 virus as a “pandemic”. They also felt that the world body was over-reacting to the swine flu outbreak.

 

The 1918 flu had killed 30-50 million people worldwide but at the time the general populace had no access to medicines and hygienic conditions world wide were abysmal. Two million people died in the 1957 flu epidemic. Between two to three million people died in the 1968 outbreak. On an average, 250,000 to 500,000 people die every year during the flu season. In fact, every year, other diseases claim more human casualties. The WHO estimates that a million people die of malaria and two million from AIDS, every year.  

 

Fidel wrote the articles after the Mexican president Felipe Calderon postponed his scheduled official visit to Cuba in a huff. The Mexican president was angry with the Cuban government for suspending all flights from Mexico after the news of the H1N1 epidemic broke out. Cuba was forced to take the step after a young Mexican student who had just landed in Havana was diagnosed with H1N1 virus. Other countries in the region like Peru, Ecuador and Argentina had suspended all flights to and from Mexico. France had tried unsuccessfully to get an EU ban on flights to Mexico. China too had banned direct flights from Mexico.

 

Besides, Cuba has reasons to be more alert than most countries. Anti-Cuba terrorist with the backing of the CIA had introduced the African swine flu virus into the country in 1971. The Cuban authorities were forced to slaughter 500,000 pigs to prevent a nation wide animal epidemic at the time. An American intelligence official involved in the operations told the American daily “Newsday” that he was given the virus in a sealed unmarked container at a CIA training base in the Panama Canal Zone, with instructions to turn it over to an anti-Castro terror group. The 1971 outbreak, the first and only time that has occurred in the western hemisphere, was described by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) as the most alarming event of 1971. Fidel in his May 13 Reflections wrote that the only thing that can be affirmed for now is that the CIA did not introduce the new flu virus.

 

 

US & MEXICO RESPONSIBLE

FOR SPREADING THE VIRUS

 

The H1N1 virus first broke out in the community of La Gloria in the state of Vera Cruz. The local media dubbed it the “NAFTA flu” because the area is next to an American owned pig farm that was relocated to Mexico after the signing of the NAFTA agreement. Granjas Carroll is an industrial pig farm owned by a US corporation “Smithfield Foods”.  The company moved to Mexico after it was fined heavily for environmental pollution in the US. Mexico eager for American investment is said to be quite lax when it comes to implementing environmental laws.

 

 

According to many experts, the virus spread rapidly because of the free movement of pigs and labour in the region, facilitated by the NAFTA agreement between the US and Mexico. The US has so far registered the largest number of swine flu cases. No independent investigations have been carried out so far to establish this relationship. Fidel is of the view that the US and Mexico should own primary responsibility for the spread of the virus “The US and Mexico have become international exporters of the epidemic. Perhaps that sudden and devastating spurt could have been averted.” he wrote.

 

In the recently concluded “Three Amigos” summit of the three North American countries—the USA, Canada and Mexico, held in Guadalajara, platitudes were exchanged about the successful handling of HIN1 epidemic. The three presidents said that their response to the Swine Flu was due to NAFTA’s Security and Prosperity Agreement (SPP). Forgotten was the fact that the SPP had not even provided Mexico with the capacity to analyse viruses. It was only in the third week of April that the Mexican health authorities sent samples to the Canadian government’s microbiology laboratory. The Mexican paper El Universal reported on April 25, 2009 that the Canadian laboratory affirmed that the influenza virus “attacking the Mexican people is not only a new virus for human beings, but for the world as a whole”.

 

VACCINES TO BE

OUT OF REACH

FOR POOR NATIONS

 

On April 11, the Pan-American Health Organisation’s Watch Group asked the Mexican health ministry to verify an alleged outbreak of influenza in the community of La Gloria, emphasising that it could pose a significant international health risk. But the Mexican authorities seem to have given a higher priority to the visit of the new American president, his first to a neighbouring country since taking over. Mexican officials have admitted to the media that their government was left alone to tackle the epidemic despite claims to the contrary by the three leaders assembled in Guadalajara. The summit’s declaration on the H1N1 flu had nothing specific to say about the heightened risk for the poor population, who do not have ready recourse to medical care. Even in the US, one-sixth of the population does not have health cover.

 

The Argentina’s health minister, Juan Manzur, told a regional meeting of health ministers in the first week of August that vaccines to combat the flu may soon be out of reach for the poor nations. The WHO’s Margaret Chan said recently that “the lions share of this limited supplies will go to wealthy countries. Again we see the advantage of affluence, Again we see access denied by an inability to pay”. Fidel Castro writes that the impact on Cuba in case the dire predictions come true, would be catastrophic. “Our country is prevented from purchasing any medication, raw material, equipment or components of diagnostic equipment manufactured by US transnationals on the basis of the extraterritorial legislation that the US has imposed on the world”, Fidel was referring to the economic blockade the US has imposed on Cuba for the last fifty years.

 

There are growing demands that the three North American countries should form a commission to enquire whether the big pig farms owned by multinationals, like the one in La Gloria, could in the future incubate even more lethal viruses. Mexican officials said that there was no trilateral strategy to confront the epidemic despite its “ground zero” discovery in La Gloria.  No independent analysis was done by experts of the three countries of the pigs and the general hygienic conditions at the multinational owned farm.

 

Local residents of La Gloria had been complaining for a long time about the huge pools of pig excrement and toxic chemical left unattended in their neighbourhood by the company. More than 30 per cent of the people living near the pig plant had come down with flu-like symptoms. The mortality rates in the region as a result of the H1N1 infections were initially higher in Mexico, because most of those affected did not have the means to get quick medical attention.