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5 Aug, 2009 14:39

Swine flu medicine available… but not for sufferers

Swine flu medicine available… but not for sufferers

In the UK’s capital, antiviral distribution centers are not providing adequately for the population. Sufferers who try to get the medicine and fail are saying that it’s “not fair”.

In some centers, among the few that are open and dispensing antiviral medicine, people often have to wait for hours. In Sherwood, Derek Lovelace, 46, was left to stand in the queue despite wearing braces to aid his broken back. He says that in his position he must be lying down, but he had been made to stand nevertheless.

Another customer was refused treatment for being one minute too late after being held up in traffic. The London Evening Standard has described the whole flu drug distribution situation as “chaos”.

The Labour government’s advice for those who have the symptoms to stay at home caused confusion. Nevertheless, citizens going against the advice and called the doctor, like Abdul Rauf, 72, are told to come to a clinic. As a result, some patients become so frustrated with waits that they don’t go to GPs at all and come straight to the centers. The GPs’ tactics of telling the patients to wait for four days also doesn’t help those caught up in the media panic.

People seem to have become increasingly agitated with the constant commotion from the press and the government’s avoidance tactics. It has been noted that, instead of the official figure of 7,447 sufferers the government published, the figure was actually closer to 4,000. These results accounted only for “laboratory proven” cases, but seemed like anti-panic tactics to some, and others then assumed that there must have been something to panic about, but this in turn has caused people to become even more paranoid, with demand for antivirals doubling every week. Although the official sources assure the public that the situation is being handled, the sources that are close to the distribution are acutely concerned. This is exhibited, in one instance, by supermarket chain Sainsbury’s refusing to stock antiviral drugs because of fears of being flooded by customers. “What if we go to the next level?” asks one employee working in sales. “What if the demand keeps doubling as it is now?” Hence the keen interest in shutting down sports halls and libraries and using them as distribution points.

By far what is most interesting is not the technical mishaps or ill-trained staff. It seems that the intellectual elite, in this case the emergency Committee COBRA (Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms), has outdone their somewhat inept acolytes. Cobra have proven themselves to be inept at a truly high level, as only high-level government officials can. According to the latest governmental recommendations, pregnant women are to “think twice before conception” (Burnham officials). This is for fear of giving birth to possibly deformed babies as a consequence of suffering from swine flu. The motivation here is clear – who would want to put their child at risk of deformity or miscarriage? But won’t that create another risk? Suppose the epidemic lasts for a sufficiently long time and nobody is wanting to play Russian roulette with conception? In this situation the whole generation would be endangered and not just some children. In either case, pregnant women are also “advised to avoid doctors in case they infect others” (Simon Jenkins, The Guardian’s columnist).

What makes it even more difficult for sufferers is the fact that they often simply can’t get to the stocks, hence “breaking the rules” and buying from private channels.

The number of people who were given Tamiflu on the NHS exceeds the number of diagnosed cases of flu by 350. Private companies sell Tamiflu, the antiviral medicine, for 120 pounds a pack while it is free on The National Health Service. The public would rather go to the private sources and pay this money. This is simply because they “don’t trust the NHS” (Robert Mackay of theonlineclinic.co.uk).

For an insider opinion we referred to the aforementioned Simon Jenkins of The Guardian. He describes it as a widespread panic blown mightily out of proportion, implying that “scares are used by someone with a vested interest”. He, in turn refers to American epidemiologist Philip Alcabes, who draws a connection to the previous swine flu outbreaks in America. He describes the $93 million of compensation the US Government ended up paying for the side effects. Jenkins decidedly states that “Most [friends] confirm that the one thing not to take is Tamiflu” because its side effects certainly outweigh the benefits.

The UK’s reserves of Tamiflu are currently protected by a “ring of steel”. This is a combination of security guards, police and mysterious “other” security services that will keep the drugs secure. It is implied that sufferers may revert to violence if they understand that there aren’t enough distribution centers and not nearly enough time. Some think that they may use force to get to the medicine. This seems possible but unlikely, given the public’s ardent interest for private sellers.

In another attempt to make things a little easier, the government spent two million pounds on a swine flu hotline. Sadly, this involved the hiring of personnel with near zero relevant experience; the only condition for hiring seemingly the ability to start the next day. These recruits, who instead of being interviewed or undergoing background checks, were just taken into a room and told they were hired. One of them felt willing to spill the beans to an independent reporter. The story that came out caused the public to further lose trust in the government.

The public seems generally very distraught, although it is understandable that the help delivered is taken for granted. Of course, if every cured citizen reported with the same amount of enthusiasm, this would be an altogether different picture. At the moment, the government is under heavy criticism. An objective observer could note that the authorities are dealing with the problem rather well. The occasional errors are, after all, inevitable in a crisis time, in a system that involves millions of factors and is being set up in a very short space of time. On the other hand, it is serious that some people get turned down for treatment and go through ordeals to get medication they are entitled to by law. The question is: is the situation undergoing the expected shakes and wobbles, or is this incompetence on a national scale? And if so, is this incompetence intentional? Jenkins, in this regard, concludes that the “government generates public dependence through periodic scares.”

Currently, warnings have been issued that 100,000 people could fall ill in the UK, and £4.2 billion in economic losses are predicted.

Nikita Kosmin for RT

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