Swine flu pandemic

The WHO has now declared the swine flu a global pandemic. There are 27,737 cases confirmed worldwide and the number is growing fast. However, only 141 deaths are confirmed, which gives the swine flu a mortality rate of 0.5%. Compared with the Spanish flu which killed about 10% of those infected it might be seen as a lot less severe.

However, focussing on the mortality rate would be misleading. If the swine flu were as infectious as the Spanish flu, but had a mortality rate of only 0.5%, it could still kill 6,500 New Zealanders or over 11 million people worldwide. That’s a LOT of people and really reinforces how important the spread of the disease is.

On the other hand, 18 million people die every year from poverty-related causes. Is the response to the pandemic proportionate to our response to global poverty? I guess my point is twofold: first, it’s important to put percentages and proportions in context to understand them but, secondly, once you’ve put them in proportion in throws into relief the lack of effort we put into similarly severe problems.

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  • Although you miss out the crucial element of “return” on the investment. Despite the fact that further spread of swine flu is unavoidable, the threat it poses (to New Zealand) can be significantly reduced. Moreover, to use your global poverty example, the threat swine flu poses to NZ can be addressed at a national (as opposed to multinational) level. I don’t think global poverty can be similarly addressed.

    This is not to say that I believe swine flu is more important than, say, global poverty but (a) we (as a country) get a more direct benefit from investing in minimisation and (b) it is more tractable.

  • @Dismal Soyanz
    I think your comment really goes to the problem of incentives. Poverty needs to be dealt with at a national level, just as the flu pandemic does. The problem is that the countries with the resources to deal with the issues aren’t the ones who have a large number of people living in poverty. However, they do have a large number of people at risk of contracting the flu. Really the issue is the way we value the welfare of our nation’s citizens more than the welfare of others, as Matt too has often said.

  • @rauparaha
    From a political (or should that be politician’s) perspective obviously the vote of a citizen is worth more than the (non-existent) vote of non-citizens. Which then moves onto the issue of how (little) NZ voters value the welfare of others – for which there is a whole myriad of reasons. In short, the incentive to do (or be seen doing) something about swine flu is much greater for our political elite than doing something about global poverty.

    Going back to your earlier comment about mortality, from what I have read about swine flu is that it is not significantly more virulent than seasonal flu. Yet a large number of people globally die from seasonal flu every year. What seems to be unspoken about why there is so much concern about swine flu is that it is an unknown. Its seemingly high incidence among young people is different from seasonal flu. Moreover, its origin is seemingly from a combination of flus that are normally present in a number of different species of animal and that raises concerns about its ability to mutate into something perhaps more virulent.

  • goonix

    It could be a win-win situation then – swine flu could go some way to ‘curing’ poverty. 😛

  • I’ve just been diagnosed here in florida with swine flu.. You might want to update your list to confirmed 27,738.