Sars in 2003, Bird flu in 2004 and now swine flu in 2009. In today's times diseases spawn and spill over with a far greater ease than dubious infiltration. Thus an outbreak of an epidemic or a chronic ailment quite understandably shoves in an alarm to people across geographics. A person living as far away as in New Zealand is left threatened at swine flu outbreak in Mexico, International airports sensing the nerve of a worried lot of passengers jack up medical check- points for passengers. While other world bodies double up its concern for the world, asking entire world to keep supplies of drugs handy. So the obvious question is why it evokes such a global mass paranoia at a spate of an infection? The answer to it lies in two observations.
Diseases such as swine flu, bird flu and sars spread simply through coughing, sneezing and touch.
The second reason is that there is a great amount of travel and trade that keeps the world spinning round.
Air travel in 2007 was 835 m vis-à-vis 700 m in 2003. With so much human and freight displacement happening around the world, spread of diseases is a hard fought task to curb. It has become so mobile that even before the place it originated from, can raise alarm, the disease has already passed on.
Diseases like the bird flu spreads through contaminated chicken, which accounts for a lion’s share in world trade. The rise in figures of the worldwide consumption of chicken has risen from 6.3 million metric tonnes in 2002 to 7.9 million metric tonnes in 2009.
Swine influenza Virus
To wick out epidemics and diseases, World Organization for animal health (OIE) – a Paris based organization, scans animal health standards. They have set scientific norms to ensure that nations practice ethical and undisputed international trade of flesh. Their orientation with facts and figures on animal health puts them in a position to quickly pass on information in case of a spread and occurrence of animal diseases.
The OIE through its research and development curriculum, stands a ground to keep a check on the players involved in the animal trade market. It constantly revises the international standards for diagnostic tests and vaccines to ensure safe trade in animals and animal products.
The OIE standards are The Terrestrial Animal Health Code (which includes animals such as mammals, birds and bees) and The Aquatic Animal Health Code (which includes fish, molluscs and crustaceans as well as their products). The measures launched by OIE offers the traders a window space to allow transfer of animals and/or humans minus the hassle of unfair trade restrictions.
Each government infuses its own choice of preventive measures to deal with outbreak of diseases. Generally technologies at airports are enhanced, doctors are put on duty and travelers are urged to report on any apparent symptoms of the disease to the authorities. Passengers are also savvied with the dos and donts for reasons of individual safety.
India too has locked steps with OIE and should on principle; follow the standards that are exacted by them. But the Indian grounding against epidemics is just too lax. The airport at the national capital clobbers in need of basic equipments like thermal scanners. The ant-viral drugs that need to be used for swine flu are available in India but the government does not allow them to reach the market.
There’s a good lot of screech surrounding self-oriented regional development but does anyone really care to even titter about the regional disparities. Step-motherly treatment in facilities and medical infrastructure continue to trickle down between developed and developing nations and divide them too. The poor nations in turn are, most vulnerable to diseases, often made for by dumping tendencies by developed nations.
Africa reeling under swine flu features as a caption kicker in some report while developed nations very easily manage to trigger sirens for immediate global call for action. For poor nations, the drug availability would be less and even if the drug is made available, it’ll be expensive beyond affordability. So when countries are saying that they are fighting these diseases globally, can we sniff something that has gone under carpet?
Globalisation offers the world a level playing ground. But if such disparities exist, is it all fair and square?