Thursday, March 02, 2006

US government will be little help on bird flu: Leavitt

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt says to expect bird flu in the US "soon." Wild birds and maybe commercial poultry, he warns. Thanks for the heads up.

While articulating the obvious, Leavitt added another: if a bird flu pandemic gets going, every community is on its own.
"In the first six months of a pandemic we are dependent on basic public health, social distancing; every business, every school, every church, every county to have a plan," Leavitt said, adding, "We are overdue (for a pandemic) and under-protected, but we are moving with dispatch."

Leavitt also was skeptical that the federal government could provide all localities with the full arsenal of basic medical equipment, such as ventilators, masks, gauze and gloves, needed during a pandemic. That surprised Senate Budget Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, a New Hampshire Republican, who said he had thought the billions of dollars being spent would cover such stockpiles.

Instead, Leavitt put the responsibility of local preparedness mostly with local officials. (Reuters)
Senator Gregg (R. - NH) might be surprised but he shouldn't be. We have been saying this here for a year or more. It is patently obvious. So am I agreeing with Leavitt? Yes and no. Yes, what he says is correct. But No, it didn't have to be. If we had spent the bioterrorism money rationally to strengthen the social service and public health infrastructures of our communities we would have taken a big step toward making them sufficiently robust to withstand the threat of epidemic infectious diseases of all kinds, including bird flu. Instead we wasted the money on bureaucratic wheelspinning, useless gadgets hawked by war profiteers and foisted on local communities, and distorted priorities. We've been doing it for almost five years, and Gregg, his party, his President and sadly, many Democrats (like Joe Lieberman) are responsible.

Now every community is forced to play catch up on its own, stealing from other urgent needs and crippled by greedy tax cuts that benefited the few. True, it is the responsibility of every community to get ready for what might happen. Also true, the federal government and congress have already failed in their responsibility.

Meanwhile, AP reports the government of the Bahamas has sent a team of experts to look into 15 flamingos, five roseate spoon bills and a cormorant found dead on a southern island. At this point the cause could be any of a number of things. But on the list is certainly bird flu. West Indian flamingos migrate throughout the Caribbean but not as far as Europe or Africa. On the other hand, West Nile virus, another virus with a bird reservoir, got to the US somehow, appearing first on the East coast. No one knows how.

Leavitt is reduced to bringing a "good luck" message from this Administration. They could have provided so much more. But they didn't and they aren't going to and they don't even get it.

What a bunch of losers.