Saturday, October 22, 2005

Do You Ever Get the Feeling That We Are All Fucked?

I'm sorry to keep harping on about avian flu but this press release (see below) put out by the Ministry of Health this week deserves a bit of a critique. When you read it bear in mind the Ministry has spent millions preparing NZ for an epidemic and that we're regarded as one of the best prepared countries in the world.

This is part of a release was put out on behalf of the Director of Public Health, Dr Mark Jacobs on the 20th of October.

Personal hygiene measures that all New Zealanders can take will form a crucial part of helping to reduce the risk of influenza infection. At a community level, there are simple, practical measures families and individuals can take to help themselves, in the event of a pandemic. These are: regular handwashing using soap, remembering to dry hands thoroughly afterwards covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue and safely disposing of the used tissue in a bin avoiding contact with others if you are sick, and staying home from work to reduce the risk of passing on the infection making sure you have enough food and water in the house to keep going if you become sick and can't get out to the shops. Plan for about a week's worth of supplies having a supply of paracetamol in the house to reduce fevers in people who are sick.

So what he's saying is: use a tissue, wash your hands, and take a disprin. I feel so much safer and better prepared now. Hell, that's the same sort of advice my grandmother would have given me, except at least she would have added chicken soup to the list. I wonder how many millions of dollars they spent to come up with that handy list of advice.

Further in the release Dr Jacobs says the Government has spent 26 million dollars to buy 850,000 doses of Tamiflu. This will be enough to treat 21 percent of the population. Which is all well and good for the lucky 21 percent although not so flash for the remaining 79 percent of us. And as this study points out general infection rates from influenza in a non-pandemic year are around 20 percent of the population. That suggests a pandemic will infect more (figures being bandied about suggest around 30 percent) meaning we still won't have enough Tamiflu to treat everyone. Even then there's no guarantee it'll work.

So here we have out health authorities telling us everything is in hand and under control. I'd really like to know what the clinicians are thinking. You know the people that will be taking care of us when, and if, the shit hits the fan. I wonder if they're of the same opinion as this Australian physician. If he's to be believed we are totally screwed as there's no way our hospital systems can cope with a pandemic of the size that's being talked about.

Those of you with health insurance are probably sniggering right now thinking you're home and free. I've got news for you, you're not. The official word from the Health Insurers Association of NZ is that only a tiny minority of people with health insurance have the type of cover that will provide private healthcare if they come down with bird flu. The sad fact is the spiralling cost of health insurance means the vast majority of people with policies are only covered for surgery.

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