I have to say, and I've written, that I've been afraid of this for years. The minute the Bush Administration began gutting public agencies and replacing career regulatory and health experts with political hacks and their underlings, it raised the danger that any sudden public health crisis would overwhelm a broken public health sector.
Now here we are, dangerously close to such a scenario. The World Health Organization has just upgraded its swine flu alert to Phase 5, the second-highest level, meaning that a flu pandemic is "imminent," according to the New York Times. This from today's Times story:
The first death from swine flu in this country — of a 23-month-old child from Mexico who was being treated in Houston — was reported on Wednesday, along with more infections and hospitalizations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 91 confirmed cases from 10 states, up from 64 cases in 5 states on Tuesday.
Dr. Chan emphasized the need for calm, but at times spoke as if a pandemic had already begun, saying, for instance, “W.H.O. will be tracking the pandemic.” She also emphasized that developing countries tended to have more severe flu epidemics than rich ones, and said her organization and others would need to make special efforts to help poorer nations.
Here in the U.S., a huge problem is that states, starved by the recession and by slashes in federal funding, are sorely ill-equipped to handle the kind of public health emergency that may be about to fall into their laps.
It is not the fault of the corrupt Bush Administration, and the complicitly government-weakening Clinton Administration, that the world's next flu pandemic may be about to happen. It is, however, the fault of those who have cynically monkey-wrenched government capability and expertise that the public sector is now incapable, by recent design, of adequately caring for the public.
Our nation seems to learn cyclically, again and again, why sound, solid government matters. What a tragedy that this is a repeated lesson. Here's hoping that the human costs this time don't continue to dramatically mount.