January 08, 2006

Bird Flu and Public Health

David Perlmutter at PolicyByBlog points to blogger Vladimir van Wilgenberg who focuses on the Kurdish territories of the Middle East and brings a new dimension to the bird flu outbreak in Turkey:

... Due to extreme poverty, many [Kurds] have chosen to eat their sick animals rather than bury them in lime pits. Several residents said Turkish authorities had failed to properly inform the Kurdish-speaking community about what bird flu is and how it spreads to humans. ...

Click on over to read van Wilgenberg's story about the extent of the problem and the Turkish government's neglect of its Kurdish population, as well as Perlmutter's discussion about the selective focus of the American media that prevents 'well-informed' news watchers from having an adequate sense of the world's problems. Both posts do a good job of addressing those topics, so I'll move on.

Bringing the discussion home, what does this issue mean for Americans? I see this situation as having a direct bearing both on our public health policy and treatment of medically isolated racial minorities or immigrants.

Here in the US, African Americans are more likely to receive poor care for or die from osteoporosis, heart disease, asthma, breast cancer, among others. In fact, healthcare, survival rates and preventive measures are poorer across the board for African Americans. These are people who speak English and were born US citizens, yet they are allowed to remain in a state of poor general health, much to what should be our shame.

What then for ethnic minorities who don't speak English? What about the Hispanic community, both full citizens and illegal immigrants, which provides a crucial engine of our economy but is publicly reviled or ignored as a matter of policy? Xenophobic hysterias are periodically drummed up to raise calls to exclude these groups from healthcare, from education, from having government notices or forms printed up in their native language. The spiteful bastards who incite this sort of fear and loathing based movement never pay more than transparently self-protecting lip service to inclusion, to distinguishing between legal and illegal immigrants, putting whole communities under suspicion.

The question we should be asking right now is whether or not we're creating future mini-Kurdistans. When the next epidemic shows up, will it fester in these communities for critical weeks or months before something is done? Will it cross the tipping point into a serious, nationwide health crisis while we wait through the public shouting match between media personalities who say 'screw 'em' and media personalities who say 'let them screw themselves?' This is not a problem that will or can be fixed by mass deportation and it's one that would only be made worse by further excluding these members of the wider community.

As the book Betrayal of Trust pointed out, most of the gains in lifespan made in the US over the last century have been made as a result of public health measures that ensured a better standard of living for everyone. They were made as a result of deciding that every community needed to be protected from the scourges of the day, such as tuberculosis or water-borne disease. Determinations were made that it was in the interest of everyone for the most vulnerable members in the chain of public immunity to receive the type of care and services that would prevent wider health crises, and lo and behold, it worked like a charm.

The most heinous sin of the Republican party this past century is to push people to forget that we're all in this together. Because the Turks don't think they're responsible for their Kurdish population, the whole world is further endangered every time that flu gets a chance to mutate in another human host, gets more time to hone its virulence. They are failing their people, their neighbors.

Let us not keep making the same mistake.

Posted by natasha at January 8, 2006 01:17 PM | Health/Medicine/Health Care | Technorati links |