An opinion piece by Javier Flores in today's La Jornada. My translation.
In spite of the tone of Felipe Calderón's message, broadcast yesterday, designed to reassure everyone (which seems to me the correct thing to do, in comparison with the first version which generated panic), we are still not in the land of good news. The number of new flu cases in our country has not declined and the data is not clear, while reports about people infected in the US, Canada and some European nations show that the infection by the swine flu virus is on the verge of taking on pandemic proportions.
One question arising from this uncertainty is: how did this public health problem arise? Today, people outside Mexico think the origin is Mexico. This would signify that the mutation of the virus of swine flu occured here, transmitting itself initially among people in our country, and from here, disseminating itself to the world. But this is not necessarily true. This is an excessive simplification. Globalization, which involves an exchange of multitudes of people and of merchandise, makes it hard to decide precisely the origins of an epidemic. This unknown will be resolved in the medium and long term by means of studies aimed to answer questions about the precise nature of the virus, which now appears to be confirmed as a mutation of A/H1N1, one of the most common viruses in pork production plants in North America. But unfortunately, we here in Mexico are too far away to particpate in these studies.
In Calderón's message, attention was called to a commtment: in the next 73 hours, he said, the country will have within its borders specialized laboratories to confirm to type of virus present in cases of swine flu. Earlier he affirmed something else very interesting [not to say puzzling]: he said that originally Mexican specialists had detected a viral agent, but that it was not confirmed by the most advanced laboratories of Canada and the United States. I have no doubt that Mexico has the most advanced scientists with the ability to undertake these studies, since I know just how goodMexican scientists are. But what is clear is that we are trying to solve a problem of insufficiencies which has lasted a number of decades for lack of attention, and it includes the disdain of the government towards scientific and technological activity, which, as we can see, has made us completely dependent on foreigners although we face probelms which threaten the lives of many Mexicans.
Vaccines are another problem. To produce a vaccine is no simple job. It implies being able to count on many sophisticated scientific and technical capacity. At present, foreign pharmaceutical laboratories benefit from the lack of knowledge in developing nations. As a consequence, the costs of prevention are rising higher, to the extent that they now compete with the costs of specialized hospitals. Facing the epidemic of flu which afflicts us, we just stand there with our hands in our pockets hoping that by some miracle a new vaccine specifically directed against this illness will emerge. In other articles, I have proposed the creation of projects involving international cooperation which would bring together academies of science and medicine with their homologues in nations which share our problems, in particular in the region of Latin America, with the purpose of producing our own vaccines. It would also be useful for the production of antiviral medications.
I believe one of the great lessons of this swine flu epiemic is that we were caught with our pants down. We have great abilities in the area of medicine. We have a good system of epidemiological vigilance and a system of public health of the first rank, constructed with great effort over many years. But the great weaknes we show in scientific and technological areas makes us dependent on foreign countries whose experts will have the last word on the origin of this pandemic and how to prevent one in the future.