Posts Tagged ‘World Health Organisation’

From 1998: Times Speculates on the Resurgence of New Plagues

July 18, 2020

Here’s another old article, this time from the Times, Monday, August 4 1997. Written by Anjana Ahuja, ‘Are We Ready for the Next Plague’ argues that the world has been mistaken in scaling back its defences against global disease, leaving us seriously unprepared. Subtitled ‘We are dropping our defences against disease’, the article runs

In the Middle Ages, one would not have lingered by the marshes of eastern England, particularly those in Kent and Essex. Nowhere in the country, which was falling prey to plagues, was more hospitable to the malaria parasite.

The menace of malaria hung over British shores until the mid-19th century, when it mysteriously declined. By 1940, the disease was no longer a threat to humans, because of rising standards of hygiene, the falling price of the anti-malarial drug quinine and the lessening availability of cattle, on which mosquitoes prefer to dine. But there is no guarantee, says a leading parasitologist, that malaria will not haunt the nation again.

The warning has been issued by Robert Desowitz, Adjunct Professor of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina, who has spent many of his 71 years studying insect-borne diseases in places such as Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Burma, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, India, Laos, Vietnam and Sir Lanka. His view, expressed in his book, Tropical Diseases, is that the “golden age of antibiotics is waning”. As a result, he says, it is not impossible that the nightmares once vanquished by modern science will recur. Isolated outbreaks of Ebola and Lassa fever are, like the rise of HIV, a sign to him that we should be on our guard. However, he does not wish to seem apocalyptic. ” It may be true thyat there are diseases coming out of the jungle to kill us,” he says. “My response is that we don’t know that, but we ought to stay alert.”

His book is an eloquent, and sometimes alarming, history of how diseases have hitched their way around the world. The subtext is that humans, particularly in the colder climes (this includes the British), live in a fool’s paradise. Our defences are further weakened by mass migration and global change, leading to great changes in epidemiology. He expresses incredulity that worldwide efforts to combat infectious disease are being would down.

“I was listening on the radio this morning to America’s new military chief of staff, who was saying that we cannot demilitarise against old enemies,” he says. “The symmetry with disease struck me. We are not properly prepared.”

“The science budget is shrinking. My opinion is that the World Health Organisation is scientifically bankrupt. We are having problems with infectious disease. If you were going to certain parts of the world, you would be hard pushed to find a really good anti-malarial drug. We have neither cures nor preventions for viral diseases such as Ebola, Lassa and HIV.”

One particular worry is climate change, which he sees as an enormous potential problem. Tropical diseases such as malaria are very temperature-sensitive-higher temperatures allow an influx of alien pests and the warmth encourages the pests to breed more rapidly.

Other researchers have been discovering the effect of climate change on unwelcome visitors. Biologists at Leeds University have set up a simple experiment that shows what happens to insects when faced with temperature changes. Using eight linked cages, and three species of fruit fly adapted to different temperatures, Professor Bryan Shorrocks and Dr Andrew Davis have tried to replicate what would happen to fruit flies if the temperature changed across Europe. the Biotechnology and and Biological Research Council financed the £241,000 project.

The cages were connected by thin tubes through which the flies could migrate. The temperatures in the cages ranged from 10C to 25C; the intention was to mimic average temperatures across a swath of Europe stretching from Leeds to southern Spain. The optimum temperature for the three types of fruit fly – Drosophila subobscura, Drosophila simulans, and Drosophila manogaster – were respective, 15C, 20C and 25C. Fruit flies are easy to use and they breed quickly.

When each species was tested on its owns, and confined to one cage, it became extinct at temperature extremes. The next step was again to treat each species on its own, but to allow it to move through the tubes between cages.

Dr Davis reports: “The flies survived across the whole temperature regime. Where they became extinct, the population was topped up by individuals from other cages looking for more food and space to lay eggs.

The last, and most complex stage, was to populate the cages with different permutations of the three species. This was where the most interesting results began to emerge. For example, when subobscura and simulans were thrown together, the simulans species dominated its familiar temperature climate of 20C., but subobscura was more populous at about 10C, well below its optimum temperature.

Dr Davis says that each species did not necessarily behave according to expectation. He concludes: “We may not be able to predict where a species will occur on the globe purely by knowing its temperature requirements. It’s surprising.

In other words, matching the pest to a temperature zone is not that simple. Dr Davis is keen not be seen as alarmist. “I am not saying these effects will happen, or that they will be important,” he says. “But some of the things that might happen with global warming may need planning, particularly pest problems.

Professor Desowitz does not envisage doom for the human race. Not yet, anyway. “People have survived plagues before, but we are not preparing ourselves properly. Perhaps,” he adds, not without a whiff of menace, “London will become malarious again.”

Meera Senthilingam says much the same thing in her Outbreaks and Epidemics: Battling Infection from Measles to Coronavirus (London: Icon 2020). Climate change, migration and mass travel are leaving us vulnerable to new epidemics, traditional antibiotics are losing their effectiveness. And we still have no cures or treatments for diseases like Lassa fever. or Ebola. But whatever other faults Blair’s government had – and these are legion, like the invasion of Iraq – it did take the threat of a renewed epidemic seriously, especially after Avian and Swin flu. They invested in the NHS, and developed specialist medical and bureaucratic machinery and protocols to combat such an epidemic when it came along. And when the epidemic was wargamed in 2016, the Tories knew that we were seriously underprepared. But they simply didn’t care. They wanted austerity and budget cuts so they could give tax cuts to the super-rich. And as a result, this country has one of the very worst infection rates and mortality from Coronavirus in the world.

They knew the disease was coming. They did nothing.

60,000+ people have died.

The Tories are guilty, and Johnson is responsible for mass manslaughter at least.

 

Boris’ Lockdown Delay Killed 30,000 People

June 17, 2020

Nonessential shops reopened on Monday, and the Beeb news was all about hordes of people queuing outside Primark. This will no doubt boost the spirits of Boris and the Tories, who care more about the economy than human lives. Boris’ lead in the polls has collapsed over his mishandling of the Coronavirus epidemic. The last time I heard anything about it, he was at -2 and Starmer was way ahead of him. And after the scandals of the government’s failure to provide adequate supplies of PPE, of deaths from the disease now having reached 40,000 and still climbing, of the massive increase in the deaths of the elderly and vulnerable in care homes there have been the additional scandals of Dominic Cummings breaking the lockdown rules to drive 240 miles to Durham and Robert Jenrick approving the development of Westferry in London after Richard Desmond sent the Tories a £12,000 donation. And then there’s the mass BLM anti-racism protests. BoJob is therefore going to be looking for some good news to distract attention away from the real problems his vile government is in. He’s no doubt hoping that people will be so delighted at the partial lifting of the lockdown and being able to get out and spend their cash again, that they’ll forget all about the deaths, misery and corruption.

So let’s remind them. Last Thursday Zelo Street posted a devastating piece about the news from Channel 4, the Financial Times and the Groaniad that Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College had estimated that if Johnson had imposed the lockdown a week earlier, the death toll from the disease could have been halved. This is the real death toll from the disease, which is believed to be above 60,000 instead of the government’s figure of 40,000. Prof. Ferguson believes that if this had been done, 30,000 lives could have been saved. Despite Matt Hancock appearing on Andrew Marr’s show telling everyone that he was sure that lives wouldn’t have been saved if this had happened, Newsnight’s Lewis Goodall considered otherwise. Zelo Street’s article quotes him thus:  “Neither Vallance nor Whitty directly demur from Neil Ferguson’s assertion that the death toll could have been halved if lockdown measures were introduced earlier. They both say, in various forms, that lessons will have to be learned. PM chooses not to answer”.

Paul Waugh on Twitter also noted that Whitty, one of Boris’ advisers, had said that we were not at the end of the epidemic, but in the middle of it. He also reminded everyone that Boris had also said, nearly 12 weeks ago, that in 112 weeks’ time Britain would have beaten the virus and sent it packing. Well, we haven’t. It’s still there and killing people. Then Channel 4 announced that it had seen a leaked paper from one of the government’s advisory committees calling for a lockdown two weeks earlier than when Boris finally bothered to do it. The paper was by Dr. Steven Riley, also at Imperial College London, who believed that the policy Boris was then following of mitigation would lead to 1.7 million deaths. He therefore called for the government to turn to the strategies adopted by Hong Kong, Japan and Italy of ‘successful ongoing control’ – in other words, lockdown. Prof. Ferguson said that the epidemic had been doubling every three to four days before the lockdown had been imposed. If it had been done a week early, the death toll could have been reduced by at least half. And on ITV’s Good Morning, the former government chief scientific adviser Sir David King said that if the country had gone into lockdown a week earlier, the final death toll would only have been less than 10,000.

Zelo Street quotes a Tweet by Tom Hatfield, who declared that the government didn’t impose the lockdown when it should because Boris and the Tories were more concerned about the economy than keeping people alive. They failed at both, because it’s ‘bollocks’ that any one country can come up with a trick in today’s globalised economy to prevent a global economic crisis. ‘They killed people for nothing’, he concluded.

The response of the Tory press was predictable. They poured scorn on the estimate, and carried on their personal attacks against Prof. Ferguson, despite the fact that he was supported in his beliefs by the other scientists Anthony Costello and David King.

Zelo Street concluded its article with

‘The deflection, pushback and whataboutery confirm this is news that cannot be merely swatted away. Alleged Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson got it horribly wrong; he and his ministers misled the public deliberately and shamefully. And as a result, tens of thousands died needlessly. That is the reality of the situation.

The families of the 30,000 should get an explanation. But they probably won’t.’

https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/06/boris-legacy-30000-more-deaths.html

Absolutely. And governments, the WHO and other international health organisations have known that something like Coronavirus was coming for a very long time. Meera Senthilingam in her book Outbreaks and Epidemics: Battling Infection from Measles to Coronavirus (London: Icon Books 2020) quotes Mike Ryan, executive director of the Health Emergencies Programme at the World Health Organisation, said that an airborne version of Ebola or a form of SARS that was even slightly more transmissible would be enough ‘to bring our society to a halt’. And she observes that this prediction has been confirmed with the emergence of the Coronavirus and the subsequent national lockdowns, the border and school closures and the cancellation of events and their disastrous consequences for business.

Mike, Zelo Street and other left-wing bloggers and news sites have posted endless reports revealing how the Tories cut the preparations the Labour government had put in place to guard against an emergency like the Coronavirus. They’ve also revealed that Dominic Cummings and other senior Tories were so taken with the eugenicist doctrine of the survival of the fittest and the desire to protect the economy, that they were determined not to impose a lockdown. And if that meant a few old people dying, ‘too bad’.

Well old people have died, along with the disabled, children, and even those, who were in otherwise excellent health. It’s also carried off the dedicated, heroic doctors, nurses, carers and other vital workers, who have been doing their level best to treat the sick and keep the country running. We’ve all been impressed by their immense dedication and how they’ve worked long hours at great personal risk.

The opposite has been true of Johnson. Not only was he murderously complacent, he was personally idle. The Tories have been trying to portray him as a heroic leader, who has himself worked long hours to combat the disease. But this is a myth, a conscious piece of propaganda, like the way Mussolini put a light in his window at night to convince Italians that he never slept. Boris didn’t bother attending the first five Cobra meetings, and doesn’t like working weekends.

Deaths were unavoidable. But if Boris had acted sooner, if we hadn’t had ten years of Tory misgovernment, during which the NHS has been run down and privatised, poverty massively increased and government preparedness decimated, all in the name of austerity and giving tax cuts to the rich, 30,000 people would still be alive.

Boris Johnson and the Tories are definitely hoping that the reopening of the High Street will bring good news from now on, and that everyone will forget this horrendous death toll.

So let’s keep on reminding him and them.

Boris has killed 30,000 people. And that doesn’t count the hundreds of thousands already murdered by austerity.

The Rise in Child Poverty Predicted for 2020

December 29, 2019

Vickie Cooper’s and David whyte’s book, The Violence of Austerity has a chapter on ‘Child Maltreatment and Child Mortality’ by Joanna Mack. It’s a deeply troubling subject which in itself should be an indictment of the Tories and their wretched austerity. Mack uses the horrific incidence of infant mortality in Britain to show how the Tories justify it as somehow inevitable, and that therefore it should therefore be considered an act of political violence, albeit carefully hidden. She writes

The UK infant (0 to 1 years) mortality rate, at around four deaths per 1000 births in 2014, is higher than all but two of the nineteen Euro area member states. About half of these deaths are linked to short gestation and low birth weight, both of which are highly associated with deprivation. The result is that babies born into poorer families in deprived neighbourhoods are more likely to die than children from richer families.

Allowing a pregnant woman to go without food in a cold, unheated home is to compromise her baby’s life chances. The World Health Organisation defines ‘child maltreatment’ as an action that in the context of a relationship of power results in ‘actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity.’ If an individual takes such action then they may be liable to prosecution. Yet if a political system results in such actions, it is seen as an inevitable, if unfortunate, by product of economic necessity. This is not overt violence but cover violence. (p. 89).

She then goes on to describe just how hollow Tweezer’s promises to end austerity and improve people’s life expenctancy in the UK actually are.

On becoming Prime Minister in July 2016, Theresa May tried to set a new tone, making bold promises about ‘a country that works for everyone’ and fighting the ‘burning injustice’ of those born poor dying earlier than others. Yet for all the talk of an end to austerity, all of the planned benefit cuts will go ahead. Largely as a direct result of these planned cuts, over half a million more children are set to fall below the 2010/11 poverty line in 2020/21 than did in 2015/16 while the percentage of children in relative income poverty is predicted to rise from 18 per cent in 2015/16 to 26 per cent in 2020/21. And these projections could prove optimistic given the economic uncertainties surrounding Brexit and the threats to turn the UK into a low tax haven with its inevitable consequence of a further rolling back of the welfare state. There are warnings of sharp falls to come to the real-terms incomes of the poorest, particularly those with children. (p.91)

She concludes

This makes a mockery of promises to fight the injustice of poverty. To do this, there would need to be a real commitment to the transfer of income and wealth from the rich to the poor. And that would challenge the very basis of the neoliberal ideology still underpinning the government – an ideology that embeds within it the violence of child poverty.

Well, Tweezer’s gone and been replaced by Boris, who will carry on the government’s neoliberal programme. If anything, he’ll ratchet it up.

And more children will fall into poverty and die in their first year.

Remember how Tweezer swanked onto the stage at the Tory conference to the tune of ‘Killer Queen’? From this perhaps a better track for her and all the other Tories should be Alice Cooper’s ‘Dead Babies’.

From 2011: Private Eye on Atos Throwing the Severely Disabled Off Benefits

April 11, 2014

This is from Private Eye’s edition for the 9th – 22nd December 2011.

ATOS

Unfit For Purpose

The government’s proposal to stop GPs writing sick notes for long-term illness and hand the work to “independent assessors” has private companies rubbing their hands. Bit it has alarmed those who far that patients will have to endure the same type of tick-box assessments as those needing benefits, as carried out by Atos.

The huge French service company has been slated by MPs and charities over its health and capability assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, leading to wrong decisions in up to 40 percent of cases and causing “fear, anxiety and distress” to many disabled people.

Now an Atos insider tells the Eye that, under pressure from government to produce figures showing the number of claimants coming off benefits, coupled with competition to run the multi-million-pound contract, the situation may get worse. In the past 12 months a number of experienced doctors have left the company because they no longer want to part of a “target-driven” system that they say is unfair to the claimants and compromises their professionalism. One said it was “immoral”.

They have not apparently been replaced, and most medical assessments are now carried out by n8urses, who are less expensive – but would have fewer skills in musculo-skeletal disorders or mental illness, two of the main causes of disability.

For those who have been assessed by Atos, the result can be devastating. Secretary Debbie, 44, has been unable to work since a brain haemorrhage 14 years ago left her needing regular nerve-blocking injections into the head and intravenous drug treatment. She suffers from excruciating headaches and is partially sighted.

Her consultant detailed in a letter how her “excruciating” chronic cluster headaches and migraine were rated by the World Health Organisation as “one of the most disabling chronic disorders”. In August she saw an Atos assessor – a doctor, not a nurse – who appeared sympathetic. However, Debbie and her partner say the assessor then made false statements about the examination, saying an eye had been carried out when it hadn’t and bizarrely alleging that she self-harms, which she says she has never done.

The DWP then told Debbie her incapacity benefit would be replaced by employment support allowance (ESA) and that she must attend work-related activity group meetings (WRAG) seven miles from her home. If she fails to attend she will lose her benefits. She told the Eye: “my consultant, my GP, everyone says there’s no way I can work. I can’t see very well, I bang into things, I can’t even make a cup of tea without spilling boiling water. I can’t travel unattended … Yet according to Atos I’m able to work.” Having lost her appeal against having to attend the activity group, Debbie is to file a formal complaint about the Atos doctor to the General Medical Council.

Similarly, in April 2009, Mike, a 52-year-old academic, was found to have a brain tumour the size of a squash ball after he collapsed and had a massive seizure. Six weeks of radiotherapy reduced its size, and Mike has remained stable – although he relies on strong anti-convulsants to keep epilepsy, seizures and focal fits at bay – and is exhausted after short periods of mental or physical activity. Two months after the diagnosis he was ordered to attend an Atos assessment and was found to be capable of work.

Mike has found that the DWP had hidden information showing that people with terminal illness, like him, should not have had to undergo such an assessment, and that any assessment that does take place should be by an expert. But it took him two years of appeals to obtain his entitlements. His battle for compensation continues.

This confirms the other reports that Atos are instructed to find a certain percentage as fit for work, in order for them to be thrown off benefits. I’d also come across elsewhere the information that some of the doctors initially involved in the assessments had left because of its immorality and unprofessionalism. And from my own experience and those of some of the commenters here, and the reports of other bloggers like Jayne Linney I know that Atos lies and falsifies its medical reports to get the results it desires.

There is some useful information here for those seeking to challenge Atos. The article’s statement that terminally ill people should not have to undergo assessment may be of some help to some of the others challenging their assessments. Atos has a long history of declaring medically capable of finding work people so tragically afflicted. Jayne Linney has suggested that as many as 55,000 people a year may have died after being assessed by Atos. If only a small proportion of these were diagnosed as terminally ill by their doctors, then it means that Atos has been massively in breach of regulations. Which is probably why bloggers such as Mike over at Vox Political have been refused this information, and denounced as ‘vexatious’ by the DWP for daring to do so.