Waldlaw Blog

Monday, May 04, 2009

Thoughts on Swine Flu

I spent April 23-27 in Mexico. I came back and immediately came down with a cold. If you are in need of some time by yourself, tell everyone you come in contact with that you just came back from Mexico and now you aren't feeling well. Even better, try telling them this between coughs and sniffles. They will give you all the personal space you need.... But seriously, I was in Puerto Vallarta, on the coast, in the state of Jalisco. For those of you unfamiliar with Mexican geography, Puerto Vallarta is approximately 550 miles from Mexico City, where the swine flu outbreak appears to have started. As of today, there still is not one reported case of swine flu in the entire state of Jalisco. Compare that to California, where there are now 190 confirmed or "probable" cases. I have heard several commentators rambling on about the "mystery" of why the swine flu mortality rate in Mexico has been so much higher than in the U.S.. Last week, I finally heard the answer I had been assuming: i.e. that most of the swine flu deaths have occurred in a particular barrio of Mexico City where there is only running water 9 hours out of the day. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that a place with very poor sanitation -- making good hygiene almost impossible -- would experience any outbreak of disease more seriously than we do here in the U.S. or in Europe, where we can wash our hands every 5 minutes if we want to, and run our dishes and glasses through dishwashers with a sterilization cycle, and so on. I have no issue with our government taking this current flu epidemic seriously. I certainly don't think it's a bad idea to have a "test drive" for how we deal with a world health crisis. But I cannot help but be offended at the surprise that we in the 1st world express when we learn of the health challenges facing very poor people in countries where things like running water and electricity are still a privilege that many can't afford. If we want to control flu epidemics like this in the future, maybe we should be looking at how to improve sanitation in the poorest neighborhoods of our poorest neighbors. This seems like a much more productive approach to addressing global health challenges than closing schools in well-off neighborhoods in the United States because one child with excellent health care and sanitation available has come down with a fever. Just my two cents....


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