This bird flu has flown
June 13th 2008, 12:04
One of the first rules of political power is to create a bogey-man (BM). As we all fear the BM, we're relieved when our political leaders are prepared to stand up to said BM, even if it means removing our civil liberties. After all, it's for our own good.
Drug companies do something similar, although they call this object of fear the bogey-man disease (BMD). Fortunately, the drug companies are on hand to protect us against BMDs, even though it means removing our common-sense or critical thinking. After all, it's for the drug comapnies' good.
There have been plenty of BMDs through the years. In 2003 we had SARs, a most fearful virus that was going to decimate the world's population. Only it didn't. This may have been because something bigger and more evil came along - avian flu.
Surely you remember avian flu, or bird flu, or influenza A, or H5N1, if you want to get technical. The World Health Organization confidently assured us that 7.4 million people around the world would die from it, and that truth-sayer President Bush assured the American populace that the virus would wipe out 2 million of them. Even our own chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson got in on the act. He told the credulous British people that at least 750,000 Britons would die from it. Very soon.
Thank goodness, then, that the drug industry had an answer to this BMD. They had Tamiflu, and governments around the world joined an ordely queue to buy, buy, buy while stocks lasted. The US bought $2bn of the drug, and the UK government wasn't far behind. Even the usually sensible Canadians joined the panic rush, ignoring the advice of their medical officer, who pointed out that Tamiflu wouldn't work against avian flu. The Centers for Disease Control in the US told President Bush something similar, but BM and BMDs are his stock in trade, so he was never going to listen.
So, just to recap: billions of dollars of a drug were sold, although it was ineffective against a disease that didn't exist. This wasn't even brilliant; we are in the presence of genius.
Trouble is, the drugs industry needs another BMD, and quickly, too. Anybody out there who spots the next major health scare, please let me know.