Liam Farrell: Much ado about nothing

I remember a newspaper article last year about a report from a human right's organisation, which apparently said that most notified breaches of human rights over the previous year had come from the US; America was bottom of the League of Shame, as the columnist described it.

I love America, and I want it to be perfect, so this disappointed me.

I Googled the full report and found that top of the league, with zero reported infractions of human rights, were North Korea and Myanmar. Obviously the freedom to report infractions had not been factored in. In fact, the true message of the report was the exact opposite of the implied message; being bottom of the table was the real badge of honour.

All of which is mirrored in the current frenzy about swine flu. There have been reported cases in the US, Britain, a few in Italy and Germany and a smattering across the rest of Europe. But, mysteriously, few have yet been reported in South America and none in Africa. Why is this, I wonder?

Is it because of their strict immigration and infection control protocols? Or maybe they are already sufficiently stocked with masks and Tamiflu.

Or maybe, just maybe, because they have the sense to understand that they have far bigger problems on their plate, and reckon that swine flu is way down their agenda.

But an ill wind blows somebody good, and swine flu has certainly been a bonanza for the manufacturers and distributors of Tamiflu and masks and all the assorted paraphernalia.

It has also been a jamboree for the WHO and public health experts. International conferences, TV appearances, suddenly transmogrified from being a rather fusty and unglamorous specialty into the darling of the media, the swine flu has done for public health medicine what AIDS achieved for the GUM specialists. Every dog has its day and I can smell a Hollywood blockbuster in the air.

Primum non nocere, we learned in medical school, yet consider the harm that has been done to Mexico's economy and the vast fortunes that have been spent on controlling what seems to be a relatively mild and self-limiting illness. In the past few weeks, how many deaths have occurred due to ordinary, but less newsworthy, flu?

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