The Guardian November 7, 2001


Anthrax puts spotlight on health-care crisis

by Judith Le Blanc

The deaths of US postal workers in Washington, DC and last week's 
discoveries of anthrax in locations around the country have set off a 
debate about the role the government should play in handling the 
crisis.

The growing numbers of people exposed and the lack of a coherent plan by 
federal and local governments to address people's concerns expose the fact 
that the richest nation in the world does not have an adequately funded, 
staffed or equipped public health system to respond to the threat of 
biological terrorism.

The Bush Administration is asking for US$300 million for local and state 
emergency bioterrorism response efforts out of a US$1.6 billion emergency 
package being proposed to Congress. Unfortunately, the majority of the 
US$1.6 billion is directed towards stockpiling Cipro, smallpox vaccine and 
other antibiotics.

At an October 23 Congressional hearing, Representative Tom Lantos (D-
Calif.) challenged the idea that the US$300 million was an inadequate 
response to the health crisis. "In a US$10-trillion economy, haven't we the 
resources to protect the health of the people? Three hundred million 
amounts to US$1.10 per person."

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) questioned the reasoning for not pursuing the 
five companies who are ready to produce the generic version of Cipro at 
US20 cents per tablet, compared with the US$2 price from the Bayer Company, 
citing the laws that make it possible to do.

Profits remain the bottom line in a time of crisis.

The Bayer Company has been running full-page ads in The New York 
Times that say, "We stand ready to support the US Government in 
providing Cipro to meet emergency needs."

Mustering the necessary response to the anthrax threat and the dangers of 
bioterrorism is almost impossible, given the lack of long-term funding for 
public health needs.

Some 43 million people without medical insurance, public hospital shutdowns 
and the privatising of public clinics leave every community vulnerable.

The Washington Post reported that at the American Public Health 
Association's (APHA) annual meeting this week there was widespread 
criticism of the Bush administration response.

"Antibiotics and vaccine without staff and basic infrastructure is like 
putting Band-Aids on a huge wound", said Karen Krause, an Ohio health-care 
consultant and former public health officer.

"You can't just rent some people and drop them into a department" that does 
not have the training or technology to handle a biological or chemical 
attack", Krause said.

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People's Weekly World (abridged)

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