Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Threaten the West with a killer disease and the dollar signs light up

Dallas, Texas and Freetown, Sierra Leone - one of these places is more than half as far away again as the other. You could be forgiven for not knowing which is which.
So, just to be clear: London to Dallas - 4,750 miles; London to Freetown - 3,064 miles.
That, of course, is just actual distance on the globe. The cultural distance is a different thing altogether.
It must be. Why else would one man's death in Texas fascinate the British media as much as thousands of deaths from the same cause in West Africa? Maybe more.
It brings to mind Joe Stalin's cynical statement that "one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic".
I would not wish in any way to disparage our own Will Pooley, the Suffolk nurse who survived Ebola thanks to London hospital care and the experimental drug ZMapp.
Having caught the virus while working as a volunteer among African victims, he is now preparing to return. He is a far braver and better man than I am. A genuine hero in a world where that word is much too freely used.
But he would be the first to acknowledge, I am sure, the disparity between the treatment of Western and African victims of Ebola.
There was never any question, while the scarce ZMapp supplies lasted, which group they would be used to benefit.
And there's an awkward truth attached to the very scarcity and experimental status of that lifesaving drug.
The first identified Ebola outbreak in humans was in 1976. That's 38 years in which drug companies could have been working to find a cure or preventive measures.
Now, belatedly, they are doing so.
GlaxoSmithKline says it is "fast-tracking" trials on a possible vaccine. The firm warns the vaccine won't be ready until the middle of next year at the earliest. Let's hope it is right when it says the current outbreak of Ebola will be over by then.
But why has it taken so long for the matter suddenly to become so urgent?
Because until now it only seemed to affect Africa. But that doesn’t mean it’s down to racism.
The real reason is economics. Money. As with most things that are fundamentally wrong in this value-inverted world.
There's no profit in expensive research aimed only at saving the lives of poor Africans who can pay little.
Threaten the wealthy West with a killer epidemic and the dollar signs suddenly light up.
It's sick, but it's so.
:: There’s a clear connection here to the cringe-inducing revelation last week of words spoken behind closed doors at the recent Conservative Party conference.
Lord David Freud should have known that in this age of mobile phones that film and record every darned thing, nothing is reliably private any more. But in this instance, we can be glad that privacy’s no longer what it was. Glad to watch a creepy-crawly squirm.
Freud’s the multi-millionaire welfare minister who said some disabled people “aren’t worth” the minimum wage and should be employed at £2 an hour.
A Freudian slip is an error of speech that inadvertently reveals a person’s true thoughts.
This one was a classic. It revealed not just Freud’s own twisted views, but the whole essence of being a Tory.
The belief that some people (them) are worth more than others (the rest of us).
I can’t feeling Freud’s great-grandfather Sigmund – the father of psychology, after whom the famous “slip” was named – would be thoroughly ashamed of him. I’d like to think so, anyway.


It’s debatable how much influence leaders’ TV debates have on election outcomes. But it is at least plausible that the 2010 series helped give us the government we now have.
Many people judged Nick Clegg the winner of that contest. Lo and behold, when the poll dust settled, Clegg was deputy PM and his party in power – at least a share of it – for the first time.
If democracy is to work at all, it needs an informed electorate –  properly and fairly informed.
Now we hear Nigel Farage has been invited by the BBC, ITV, Sky and Channel 4 to take part in a  debate before next year’s General Election.
UKIP has one MP. As does the Green Party.
Support for UKIP has surged. So has support for the Greens, who have been consistently out-polling the LibDems. And that without the tidal wave of publicity UKIP has revelled in.
If we’d seen and heard as much about the Green revolution as we have about the anti-Euro brigade, Natalie Bennett’s face might be as familiar as Farage’s.
Should UKIP, and not the Greens, appear in pre-election debate, the TV companies will be making themselves complicit in whatever an improperly informed electorate subsequently elects.
It would be a national scandal. A perversion of democracy that could affect the make-up of the next government.

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