From Mexico With BugsBy Frederick Sowah

From Mexico With Bugs

By Frederick Sowah

Published on Wed, Apr 29 2009 by Frederick S.
I don’t think pigs have had this much global attention since last year’s election campaign in the United States. Of course, it was the then Candidate Obama’s comments about applying a certain glossy Revlon cosmetics product on an “oink oink” that sparked a media reaction that lasted for more than a few days. Those comments were directed at the beautiful Alaska governor, who we all know is no Miss Piggy. No, the swine are back—and they are not alone this time. The pigs have paired up with some virulent elements and are bent on taking over not just the global media, but global fear centers as well.

As if tackling a devastating economic crisis that demands such concerted global action was not enough, the world is currently facing a possible pandemic from the swine flu disease. The disease is caused by a virus that typically affects pigs but can now infect humans. In humans, the symptoms of swine flu include fever, sore throat, body aches, chills, cough, and fatigue. The first cases of swine flu were first reported in Mexico, where more than one hundred deaths have already been reported. Cases have also been confirmed in the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Israel, and Spain.

In Ghana the government and health authorities have issued out directives to health workers and personnel to increase the surveillance over the possible outbreak of the disease in the country. Officials here believe that the country has enough drugs to deal with the situation and that the drugs that were used against the bird flu outbreak a few years ago were effective against the swine flu (or swine fever as it is also known). While urging the Ghanaian public not to excessively panic about the issue, the government is also taking measures to tighten the import of pork and its products into the country. This possible restriction comes as a result of moves by governments across the world considering putting a hold on pork imports from other countries, particularly from the Americas.

The Ghana government must be commended for the swift manner in which it is responding to the swine flu issue, despite no cases of the illness being reported in Ghana or elsewhere in Africa for that matter. But one is a little worried about the assertion that Ghana is prepared drug-wise for the disease since the country still has the drugs that were used in the last bird flu outbreak. The World Health Organization (WHO) says that the strain of the swine flu virus, H1N1, is the same that causes the seasonal flu outbreaks, but the type that has been detected recently contains genetic material from the forms that typically afflict birds and pigs. Since many drugs work by targeting the replication (“reproductive”) cycle of these viruses, a drug that is effective against a particular strain of virus may not necessarily be effective against another strain because the strains may differ in the genetic composition. One would therefore hope that the Ghanaian officials would not be lulled into a false sense of security because of the stock of bird flu drugs that it possesses.

Several countries in Europe, South America and Asia have begun screening passengers for symptoms of the disease, and it is also been reported that tour operators in Germany have suspended trips to Mexico. One wonders how developing countries like Ghana can cope with the infrastructure and personnel challenges of screening the thousands of travelers that throng their airports daily. These countries, which do not even have enough health personnel to cater for basic health needs of their people, would no doubt be stretched thin in trying to mobilize resources and trained workers to match the screening task.

The global economic crisis has already left many developing countries cash-strapped, and with many national budgets already having been drawn and fiscal discipline being the accompanying mantra, it would be interesting to see how these countries raise funds to handle the event of a full-blown pandemic. Of course, this is the worst case scenario, but it cannot nevertheless be ruled out. The loose borders present in many African countries will also pose a challenge to any serious efforts to screen people that enter these countries. No matter how meticulously airport passengers are screened for symptoms, these efforts would come to naught if people are able to simply walk across land borders. In the event of a pandemic, the tourism industry, which is depended on heavily in some developing countries, will also take a hit, since Western based travelers would be reluctant to stray away from home.

From the above scenarios, it is ironic that developing countries will always be worst off during global problems—be they economic or health—whether these countries played a part in the origin of those issues. However, commendations must go to authorities in developing countries that are taking measures towards a possible outbreak of swine flu. One can only hope that these measures are concrete, practical, and effective enough, because it seems the days of turning towards Western countries for assistance are drawing to an end, since these countries are also busy trying to find solutions to help their own people.

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