Swine Flu: Hogging the Resources?

In this preview of a BBC HARDtalk interview, Christophe Fournier, the President of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), contrasts the global mobilization of money and technology towards developing a vaccine for the H1N1 swine flu virus with the less driven commitment to battle tuberculosis and malaria, despite the higher death toll of these diseases. Has the world over-reacted to the swine flu threat?

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13 Responses to “Swine Flu: Hogging the Resources?”


  1. 1 Samuel Quintanar 22/11/2009 at 2:03 pm

    I’ve always felt very strongly that the response to swine flu has been almost ridiculously exagerated. There are so many diseases out there that kill so many more poeple than swine flu, but only receive nominal, if any, attention. On top of that, swine flu doesn’t even seem to kill many more people than the regular yearly mutations of other types of flu, which I’m sure we’ve all had at some point in our lives. It really goes to show how much people are willing to let themselves get caught up in the frenzy how swine flu awareness is at the level that it’s at, while so much else goes unspoken of.

  2. 2 Lily Yip 22/11/2009 at 11:57 pm

    The way I understand the overreaction to swine flu in HK was(i) presentation in mass media and (ii) governmental policies to avoid repeating the mistakes they made in SARS.

    HK news reported swine flu as something mutated and deadly, this generated fear and speculation from public. Public hysteria is often a driving force for resources to be given piority.

    I see the high profile “vigilance” displayed by the HK government as a more political move than a practical one. SARS was one of the factors that heightened resentment towards the government.

    But at the end of the day, overreation is better than underestimating the possible magnitute of the virus. Better to be safe than sorry, afterall, public health is matter of life and death.

  3. 3 Anushri Alva 24/11/2009 at 3:42 pm

    I couldn’t agree more with you, Samuel. The panic surrounding swine flu completely lacked a sense of perspective. I could see the extent of the overreaction in my own country (India) where more people die of typhoid and cholera than Swine flu.

    But at the same time I do think its important to realise that the very fact that it is a communicable disease (unlike malaria or typhoid) and was being spread because of the movement of people across borders, governments felt the onus was on them to make a statement with regard to how proactive they are being in “combating” the disease. The Global dimension to a flu of this nature,sort of makes governments accountable to parties beyond their borders. Further, I think governments were very aware of the amount of criticism China was subjected to by the International community for having concealed the first few cases of SARS and not having reported the intitial outbreak to the WHO.

    Having said that,I don’t think the amount of money and resources spent on handling H1N1 can be justified.

  4. 4 James Philip Jee 24/11/2009 at 9:36 pm

    I most definitely agree that the swine flu threat has been vastly overestimated. If I remember correctly, regular influenza still kills more people a year than swine flu by a significant amount.

    Since the occurrence of new strains and new diseases is nothing new, it seems that funds to combat swine flue are largely misappropriated. For starters, it seems like focusing on mitigating the spread of germs as a whole would be ideal.

    For example, a country like China that is so concerned about the spread of swine flu to the point where it quarantines people fights the battle by trying to monitor its borders when on a much smaller (though important level), Shenzhen metro station bathrooms have a lack of soap and sanitation in general.

  5. 5 Chan Horace Ho Laam 25/11/2009 at 10:40 am

    The vast amount of money spent on fighting swine flu should not come as a surprise. Unlike TB/cholera/AIDS where the situation is relatively under control in more developed countries, that is not the case for flu, a much more common and contagious diseases.

    Memories and lessons of SARS remain fresh in many people’s mind, so it is natural that governments and world bodies take the flu seriously, not only for fears of the population’s health, but also of their own reputation. A preventive measure is better than none. One should also note that scientists and experts play a big role in this matter. The politicians shape their policies according to research findings. As long as they remain uncertain over the full effects of swine flu, I think it is all too natural that more money should be invested for research and vaccination.

    I do agree that the media has overhyped the whole issue and brought a lot of unnecessary fear, but isn’t this expected of them nowadays? Oddly enough, their reporting has brought many of us even more vigilance of the disease and might have sprung governments to take actions immediately.

  6. 6 Kei Kit Lung 30/11/2009 at 12:48 pm

    Swine flu has caused around 8500 deaths worldwide so far. If we compare this figure to that of tuberculosis (1.8 million) and malaria (one million deaths annually), it is not difficult to see “gravity” of swine flu. I will attribute to the overreaction of swine flu to (1) the lesson that has been learnt from the SAR outbreak (2) the initial lack of information on the virus and (3) its highly contagious nature. Our sentiment is further escalated by media bias and the declaration by WHO that the disease was a pandemic.

    It is very difficult to answer the question on whether the money ought to be spent on developing vaccines other than that of swine flu. In fact, the question is a very good illustration that in reality, resources and information available are limited, and we need to make some trade-off. It is even in the case when we need to put a price tag in human life. However, I think it is hard to blame the government for the overreaction. In fact, recently, there have been reports that the virus is mutating and becomes more virulent now. Who can predict the capacity of this unknown virus? The money we invested may not be totally wasted.

    Another point – I wonder it is fallacious to say we have overacted the situation. Can the reduced gravity of swine flu be the result of our vigilance, which has significantly checked its spread and thereby reduced its potential to mutate?

  7. 7 Chan King Fai, Tommy 04/12/2009 at 3:26 am

    Witnessing the lessons learnt in the outbreak of Bird Flu and SARS, governments worldwide must pay extra attention when new type of virus is threatening the public health. I do not consider governments over-react to the Swine Flu issue because no one knows exactly how it develops. If unfortunately it is changed to other type of virus, then it is difficult to predict how it would adveresely affect people’s livelihood.

    Tuberculosis and malaria, being well-known as serious type of diseases, are not something unfamiliar. Facing the situation of the emergence of new form of virus, it is predictable that resourcs will be diverted to investigate the new virus as well as develop suitable vaccine. With more people around the world died because of the H1N1 recently, the issue should be overlooked. This cannot be classified as over-reacted, or I would say it is a very normal reaction.

    I do agree that the attention of treating other forms of diseases, like that of tuberculosis and malaria should not receive less attention. I am sure the relevant agencies would know how to diversify the resources in order to maintain public health around the globe. The health of every single citizen should never be discarded.

  8. 8 Chong Tak Shing 04/12/2009 at 3:36 pm

    Mr Fournier revealed a reality that governments around the world focus a lot in dealing with the recent swine flu pandemic while doing less on those pandemics really affects the world. For developed countries governments there do not want the swine flu deteriorate their economies and thus they invest a lot for doing vaccination. For developing countries they may receive less from the rich nations for subsidizing in fighting against diseases like tuberculosis which are more powerful than the flu in these regions.

    Indeed the World Health Organization (WHO) is always concerned situations caused by those ‘being forgotten’ pandemics. Take tuberculosis (TB) as an example. TB has a long history in human lives. At present TB cases can be found on countries no matter of developed or developing. In fact WHO has a plan that TB cases around the world should be steeply reduced to a certain level on 2015 (WHO, 2009) by providing strategies, coordinating countries, and providing training for medical staff.

    Obviously a blind spot can be found from the issue. Of course all countries want to tackle those old diseases successfully. Nonetheless, perhaps governments and funding organizations are not insightful enough to continuously support those developing countries in coping with those infectious diseases. Therefore, this issue always becomes latent when global crises come.

    In addition, the issue is latent also in ordinary citizens. For instance, over 4800 Hong Kong people were infected with TB in 2009 (Centre for Health Protection, 2009). People may argue the situation is steady and no concerns should be given. In such an affluent city, however, the number indicates the fighting has not yet ended up. The circumstance in developing countries is worse yet no one concerns.

    I wonder how WHO can go forward to implement its plan in order to save lives for people in the rest of the world. Developed countries should keep their promises to help those developing nations for saving precious lives.

    For interest, please browse
    Centre for Health Protection (2009). Number of notifications for notifiable infectious diseases in 2009.
    http://www.chp.gov.hk/data.asp?lang=en&cat=1&dns_sumID=375&id=43&pid=26&ppid=10

    World Health Organization (2009). The stop TB strategy. http://www.who.int/tb/strategy/en/index.html

  9. 9 Chong Tak Shing John 04/12/2009 at 6:26 pm

    Mr Fournier revealed a reality that governments around the world focus a lot in dealing with the recent swine flu pandemic while doing less on those pandemics really affects the world. For developed countries governments there do not want the swine flu deteriorate their economies and thus they invest a lot for doing vaccination. For developing countries they may receive less from the rich nations for subsidizing in fighting against diseases like tuberculosis which are more powerful than the flu in these regions.

    Indeed the World Health Organization (WHO) is always concerned situations caused by those ‘being forgotten’ pandemics. Take tuberculosis (TB) as an example. TB has a long history in human lives. At present TB cases can be found on countries no matter of developed or developing. In fact WHO has a plan that TB cases around the world should be steeply reduced to a certain level on 2015 (WHO, 2009) by providing strategies, coordinating countries, and providing training for medical staff.

    Obviously a blind spot can be found from the issue. Of course all countries want to tackle those old diseases successfully. Nonetheless, perhaps governments and funding organizations are not insightful enough to continuously support those developing countries in coping with those infectious diseases. Therefore, this issue always becomes latent when global crises come.

    In addition, the issue is latent also in ordinary citizens. For instance, over 4800 Hong Kong people were infected with TB in 2009 (Centre for Health Protection, 2009). People may argue the situation is steady and no concerns should be given. In such an affluent city, however, the number indicates the fighting has not yet ended up. The circumstance in developing countries is worse yet no one concerns.

    I wonder how WHO can go forward to implement its plan in order to save lives for people in the rest of the world. Developed countries should keep their promises to help those developing nations for saving precious lives.

    For interest, please browse the following websites:
    Centre for Health Protection (2009). Number of notifications for notifiable infectious diseases in 2009.
    http://www.chp.gov.hk/data.asp?lang=en&cat=1&dns_sumID=375&id=43&pid=26&ppid=10

    World Health Organization (2009). The stop TB strategy. http://www.who.int/tb/strategy/en/index.html

  10. 10 Lai Hoi Ho Jackson 06/12/2009 at 4:12 pm

    Actually, we can look back at the 1976 panic in the States. In that year, what was then called swine flu, threathened to be a pandemic. After one army recruit dies of the virus, others were soon hospitalized. Health officials announced that this strain seemed related to that involved in the 1918 flu pandemic. President Gerald Ford announced that people in the States should be vaccinated. Shortly after the annoucement, about fourty million people were inoculated. However, more people died of vaccinations than of the virus. This incident may tell us that we may be wrong in looking at the cause of the incident.

    I agree with Lily that the overreaction to swine flu is attributed to how the media report the news. In may this year, the media had been telling us about 2,500 cases in Mexico, with 150 deaths. But the WHO at that time was reporting that 11 countries has offcially confirmed about 250 cases of infection, and just less than ten deaths.

    Whatever the media have been doing, the officials also overreacted by trying to show that they are really prepared. It seems to me that the officials just show to the public that they have taken some political steps that they have already shouldered the responsibility in this incident.

  11. 11 Edward Andrew Ross 06/12/2009 at 4:50 pm

    This ‘overreaction’ by the Government, the Mass Media and the people is understandable. After the SARS epidemic, countries, particularly those hard hit by the disease have become more alert and pre-cautious in preventing another similar uncontrollable outbreak. The H1N1 strand is a different type of virus than your normal flu; the hype or reaction I suppose would be justified in preventing another possible epidemic similar to that of the 1919 outbreak or the 1976 outbreak.

    Perhaps the overreaction is a good thing, people are now playing the role ‘better safe than sorry’ and that latter will be the case if we don’t take caution.

    The increase in funding in combating the strain is a good thing, Globalization has caused countries to reduce state spending and a lot of that is cut from medical research. The H1N1 virus is a communicable disease and would naturally receive more attention in preventing than Malaria.

  12. 12 Wong Ching Hung 08/12/2009 at 9:39 pm

    I have to admit that some places, like Hong Kong, have overreacted a bit towards H1N1. Especially in Hong Kong, there are news reports on H1N1 every day and the government keeps a close eye on the development of disease. The media has created an image of a approaching epidemic like SARS that may take away thousands of people’s lives. On the other hand, there are people in some other places like USA, which has the most cases of H1N1, does not bother to wear masks or washing hands more frequently before.

    But all in all, I think it is a good thing to see the world paying attention on a thing and seriously thinking the effects that will spread globally. We see the cooperation between countries on information and technology exchanges for any preventive measures and the making of vaccines. We see people are generally becoming more health-conscious (wearing masks on the flights). It is a remarkable progress for us all, as we do not know when will the disease gets mutation and when there are emergences of another diseases. We have to be well-prepared.

    For the little attention paid on TB and malaria, I think it is due to 2 main reasons, first, they are no longer newly evolving diseases and have been existing in our world for a long period of time. Second, they are more serious in less developing countries like Africa and some parts of Asia, so people in the developed countries tend to neglect the fact that every day there are people out there suffering from these diseases.

  13. 13 Senia Ng 09/12/2009 at 2:59 am

    I think the main reason for the hogging of resources is because wealthy nations are at the receiving end of the detriments of swine flu but not malaria. Which means the people who have the money feel for themselves first and not for those who are in real need.

    And how unjustifiable would it not be for people who have money to protect themselves first? Who are we to blame?


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