Public Health

A catastrophic failure to act

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As the Ebola crisis continues to rage across West Africa, Tokunbo Oke recalls the history of colonialism and neoliberal policies, which has ravaged the continent and left many states unable to withstand the epidemic.

The current Ebola crisis has been running for seven months — yet you would not know that from the media coverage in the West. The epidemic has only become a major concern since US and European citizens have become victims. British nurse William Pooley, who has returned to Sierra Leone to help victims having recovered from Ebola himself, has been rightly hailed for his heroism. But the deaths of several hundred African doctors and nurses from the disease so far have been virtually ignored.

The drugs don't work

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The World Health Organisation (who) warned in April of the “devastating” potential impacts of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics are used to kill bacteria. Before they were used widely in the 1950s, minor infections could become serious or even fatal.

They are also vital for surgery and for preventing people from getting ill when their ability to fight infection is weakened during cancer treatment.

But the more they are used, the more opportunity there is for bacteria to evolve into resistant “superbugs” like MRSA.

NHS struggle of life and death

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Healthcare under capitalism has always been a contest between the needs of workers and desires of capital, and now the National Health Service faces its biggest battle ever.

The appointment of Simon Stevens, a top executive from the largest US private healthcare firm, United Healthcare (and former health adviser to Tony Blair), to be the new chief executive of the National Health Service (NHS) will do more than send a shiver down the spine of all 50,000 campaigners who marched magnificently in Manchester in September.

Swine Flu: the real dangerous swine wear suits

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With deaths mounting in Mexico authorities warn of a swine flu pandemic. Mike Davis argues that governments, pharmaceutical companies and agribusiness create the conditions for these health crises

The Spring Break hordes returned from Cancun this year with an invisible but sinister souvenir. The Mexican swine flu, a genetic chimera probably conceived in the fecal mire of an industrial pigsty, suddenly threatens to give the whole world a fever. The initial outbreaks across North America reveal an infection already travelling at higher velocity than the last official pandemic strain, the 1968 Hong Kong flu.

War Fever

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The great influenza of 1918 had social roots.

The global war of 1914-18 between the European powers brought suffering and destruction to populations in the farthest regions of the world. While the military destruction took place largely in Europe, where 9 million soldiers were killed, the conflict spread to Africa, the Middle East, Central Asia and to most of the oceans of the world. The greatest numbers of casualties, however, were not inflicted by shells, bullets and chemical weapons, but by the diseases and hunger that ensued, and by the 1918 flu pandemic that sprang directly from the war.

Aids: Globalisation as Epidemic

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Sarah Ensor examines the reasons for the spread of Aids in Africa.

Centuries from now television audiences will not look back at Aids as we do at the Black Death of the 14th century. We've seen the dramatisations of scabrous, sacking-clad peasants collapsed in smoky huts, utterly helpless before an apocalyptic disease and a middle aged historian in a leather jacket. He cheerfully explains that the death of one third of the population of Europe loosened the bonds of feudalism and created a space for a new economic form, capitalism, to emerge. The plague of HIV/Aids that is ravaging Africa is not a development opportunity.

The Drag Factor

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'We accept an interest in people's health as a basic responsibility, paramount to every other consideration in our business.' Who might have made such an altruistic statement of intent? A health food store? A bicycle company? Well, no. This was the Tobacco Industry Research Committee.

To be fair to them, that was 50 years ago. Since then the devastating health effects of smoking have become ever more apparent. According to The Tobacco Atlas by Judith Mackay and Michael Eriksen, cigarettes kill half of all lifetime users. So there are half a billion people alive today who will eventually be killed by tobacco.

The Monster at the Door

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Avian flu could cause an epidemic far more catastrophic than many politicians are prepared to admit.

As in a classic 1950s sci-fi thriller, our world is imperilled by a terrifying monster. Scientists try to sound the alarm, but politicians ignore the threat until it's too late. Indifference ultimately turns into panic.

The monster is H5N1, the lethal avian flu that first emerged in 1997 in Hong Kong and is now entrenched in half a dozen South East Asian countries. It has recently killed scores of farmers and poultry workers who have had direct contact with sick birds.

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