Swine Flu is officially over

The Good Life Letter 

Friday 19th August  2011

  • Does the UK have a massive stock of costly but worthless drugs?
  • Swine flu is officially over  
  • What have we learned about dealing with our health fears?

I have been waiting for this moment to arrive for close on three years now; however, it took a real eagle-eyed spot by a friend of mine to alert me to the fulfilment of my prophecies.

You see, three years ago we were all being besieged with stories about swine flu, an incarnation of the H1N1 virus.

We were promised a pandemic of such serious magnitude that half of the world's population was at risk of serious infection - potentially causing the death of several hundreds of thousands of citizens in each country.

A series of 'experts' were dragged in front of TV cameras to explain how critical public health vaccination programmes were, and the absolute necessity of securing the supply of the most potent anti-viral medications.

In due course all European governments were raiding their piggy banks, slush funds and contingency plans to purchase (at inflated prices) stocks of medicines, which could be used in national programmes to protect their populace.

My local GP practice even created a rota for doctors and nurses to work shifts so that they could accommodate the demand from those at risk of infection; the elderly, immune-compromised and sufferers from serious respiratory diseases...oh, and the worried wealthy who were prepared to pay for inoculation.

I remember sitting open-mouthed at the unseemly panic being created by red-top newspapers as they ran scare stories about the first poor victims of this new health horror.

There was an orchestrated cry of horror that we might not get enough of the 'good stuff' to keep us safe in a crisis, and news editors and TV anchormen around the globe were urging their politicos to buy as much medicine as possible.

Political leaders feared for their jobs, but put on the spin that they cared for public health, and duly bought big.

So big that the major players in the pharmaceutical market became embarrassed by their newfound riches...well not quite!

The Roche Group, a Swiss-based drugs giant and owners of the ubiquitous Tamiflu brand, reported a tripling in sales in 2009 and 2010, and have cruised along with group sales of over £15m per year ever since, and the profits to go with it.

But that was 2009 - what about now?

The update that you weren't meant to know about

Buried deep in the news about the riots and financial market collapses came the news I knew had to appear one day.
'The Swine Flu Pandemic Is Over'. It looked like a good day to bury bad news once again!

It was pointed out to me by my friend, Dave, last weekend, as we sat in the snug at the Nag's Head. Bless him - he had even clipped the article out for me.

I say article, but it was exactly 74 words - and from a daily paper who previously devoted pages to the risk of a pandemic.

Beneath the headline the journalist quoted the World Health Organisations Chief Dr Margaret Chan as saying the swine flu virus 'has largely run its course'; and that she expects the incidence of H1N1 infections to act like a seasonal virus from now on.

Just what does that actually mean?

Well, the fact that the virus has completed a cycle is really interesting as it means that the human population has developed an innate resistance to any severe impact from it; although we will see people affected, and may even see the loss of life, it will not be any greater than for the 'normal' flu - whatever that may be.

I realise that I'm getting on a bit now, and such advancing years can play tricks on the memory, but I don't remember the concept of the virus 'running its course' ever being an option in the paranoia of those early news stories.

In fact, a brief dip into my archive shows that our dear director general had a lot more to say back in July 2009.

'Swine flu will be the biggest pandemic ever, warns World Health chief' ran the headlines back then as she urged pharmaceutical companies to scale up vaccine research and production.

It was with these words that the whole H1N1 story blew up, and was whipped into a frothing frenzy by poor-quality news reporting thereafter.

Meanwhile, in a quiet backwater of Bristol, a refugee of Wales was penning his own thoughts about the annual flu pandemics...a rather handsome chap by the name of Ray Collins, Health Writer!

I talked about the danger of hype, the health risks of unproven vaccines (remember the post-infection condition known as Guillain-Barre syndrome that the Health Protection Agency warned GPs about?); and the blind spot our health chiefs had to vitamin C & D therapies for combating respiratory dysfunctions.

This is not just me having twenty-twenty hindsight, my letters are there in the archive for all to see, and I was not alone.

The future of pandemics

If I had a dream for the future it would be really simple.

When the new chief of the WHO is chosen, which will be towards the end of this year as Dr Chan comes to the end of her term of office, I want someone who isn't a drugs mule for the pharmaceutical industry.

I want an appointee who has a broad approach to health, a true advocate of holistic thought.

By this I am not advocating the recruitment of a medieval apothecary with a bag of leeches and purging agents, I just mean someone who is open minded.

Of course, what we WILL get is a corporate health chief who will come along with a bag of leeches - the sort that feed on anxiety and fear.
These are the legal drug pushers in whose interest any health concern has to be heightened. I don't think we have seen the last of pandemic hype, that's for sure. 

Yours as always,





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