Weekly Pulse: The Swine Flu Postgame Show

Lindsay E. Beyerstein

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders is arguing that the new Democratic super-majority in the Senate, created by Arlen Specter’s party switch, is a golden opportunity to achieve national healthcare.

So far, swine flu hasn’t developed into the deadly global pandemic that many feared. Was it all media hype, as Cervantes argues for AlterNet?
Or did all that quarantining and hand-washing actually help? While
we’ll never know what might have been, perhaps we should consider the
relatively mild swine flu as a cheap lesson–a dry run, if you will.

The swine flu scare underscores the need for strong public health infrastructure, writes Amitabh Pal in the Progressive:

When the flu began taking its toll,
Mexico didn’t have a single facility to test for the virus, and so
samples had to be sent to the United States and Canada. Mexican health
officials were slow to pick up on the initial outbreak of the disease,
and, by the government’s own admission, still have not been able to
reach out to the public in an effective manner.

Pal argues that Mexico’s healthcare system is in disarray in part
because of international pressure from to decrease the government’s
role in healthcare in accordance with the prevailing free-market

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Laura Carlsen of New America Media also worries about the health fallout from globalization, arguing that NAFTA
helped swine flue. According to Carlsen, globalization created a
perfect storm for the development and spread of an epidemic flu in
Mexico–a rapid shift to factory farming, the breakdown of public health
infrastructure, and accelerated flow of people and goods across the

Americans shouldn’t be smug about our own state of readiness. In the American Prospect, Harold Pollack takes “moderate” senators to to task for pinching pennies on public health:

Throughout, our key opponents were
moderate senators who had no problem supporting the usual giveaways to
powerful constituencies, yet who balked at spending small amounts on
useful but unsexy measures to prevent sexually transmitted infections,
promote family planning, help people quit smoking, finance
substance-abuse treatment, and, yes, prepare to fight pandemic flu. In
a $2.4 trillion health-care economy dominated by personal medical
services, it once again proved nearly impossible to channel public
investments into population-level activities that are often much more

Just because this particular epidemic didn’t spread, that doesn’t
mean that a deadly influenza virus couldn’t emerge in the future. In
fact it’s a virtual certainty that such outbreaks will continue to
happen, as they have at unpredictable intervals throughout human

Vermont senator Bernie Sanders
(I) argues that the new Democratic super-majority in the Senate,
created by Arlen Specter’s party switch, is a golden opportunity to
achieve national healthcare. “Clearly the United States needs to join
the rest of the industrialized world with a real national healthcare
program that guarantees comprehensive healthcare to every man, woman
and child–and we save money as we do that,” Sanders told Ed Schultz.
Watch the clip, via Chelsea Green:


Finally, Stephanie Mencimer of Mother Jones raises questions about the safety of NuvaRing,
a novel contraceptive technology from Schering Plough that promises the
benefits of hormonal birth control without the hassle of taking a pill.
However, more than 100 lawsuits blame Nuva for serious side effects,
including deadly blood clots:

Making birth control easier is, of
course, a good thing. But for years there have been serious safety
questions about the “third generation” hormones used in NuvaRing and
several other contraceptives on the market—questions that NuvaRing’s
labeling sidesteps by saying that it is “unknown” how the device
compares to other hormonal birth control.

It’s been an eventful week in healthcare. We failed to beef up
public health earlier this year because some legislators lacked a sense
of urgency, but prevention seems a lot more pressing in light of our
brush with swine flu. Before Specter’s defection, it seemed like
healthcare might never pass the Senate, but now there’s at least a hope
of breaking a filibuster if the Democrats can hammer out their internal
differences. We’ve got a long way to go on public health and healthcare
reform, but we passed some important milestones this week.

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