February 07, 2004 | Peter

Fifty Million Dead

“Fifty million dead’, now there’s a headline. That’s how many chickens are estimated to have been killed in an effort to stop the Asian bird flu spreading. Interestingly, it is the same number of human beings who died in the great flu pandemic of 1918-19. No less than three per cent of the Australian population died in that event that eventually killed more people than the immediately preceding Great War.
The news is full of images of piles of dead chickens burning and bags of live ones being thrown into ditches. There is an enormous level of suffering in this for these creatures, but there has been minimal concern expressed. Perhaps we see these poor animals as being blood sacrifices made to avoid our own suffering.
As I have said before in this blog, we need to start taking this global health stuff seriously. Growing world population, ever increasing travel links and the unhealthy practices when humans and animals live in close proximity – sometimes exacerbated by the modern industrial mode of breeding, slaughtering and selling animals – is a formula for what will likely be, sooner or later, a global disaster.
Commentary on that great health catastrophe the Black Death – that ravaged Europe for about two centuries – now considers that the plague was able to become so powerful because society had become weakened by years of war, social upheaval and failed crops. Their nutritional intake generally was down, and so people were just not able to fight off infection.
This is one more reason to start seeing the well being of the entire population of the world as a concern for all. Even relatively small pockets of poverty can become reservoirs of potentially virulently infectious victims. This applies within the developed nations as well as outside them. New strains of tuberculosis, for instance, are being bred in poor parts of the US and Russia because poor people tend not to finish their drug treatments, allowing the various diseases to breed out against the weakened medicines.
Diseases like SARS and Asian bird flu are partially about the old world meeting the new. In the last two centuries the west was able to beat disease – and begin the ongoing global population boom – when the developing countries of Europe, the US, Japan and elsewhere spent big money on sewage systems, new health facilities and personnel, and ending various risky practices. They also did it by ensuring that national populations enjoyed reasonable living standards in terms of basic nutritional needs and adequate shelter. These same nations – who are the main beneficiaries of globalisation – now need to spend money on improving basic living conditions everywhere on earth for the same reason. After all, infectious disease is greatly affected by wealth, but once it really gets going, the rich die along with the poor.

Posted by Peter at 4:52 pm | Comments Off on Fifty Million Dead |
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