The 12th of March last, the World Health Organisation (WHO) launched, for the first time in its history, a planetary alert in order to counter the development of the epidemic of an atypical respiratory disease, eventually called 'Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome' (SARS). The concern of the WHO was real and justified: thus, from March 27th (the day when the Chinese government began to give figures which conformed more to reality) to May 16th, the official number of infected people in the world went from 1300 to 7650, and deaths from 50 to almost 600 with the perspective of a mortality rate of 4% of persons infected.
If today, the states of the developed countries declare that the epidemic has been stemmed on their territories, it continues to wreak havoc in East Asia which accounts for 90% of cases, where victims are counted in dozens each day and where the disease threatens to become chronic.
The WHO, and with it the western bourgeoisie, have congratulated themselves on their mobilisation faced with the epidemic and, along with the rest of the 'international community', have pointed a finger at the 'unpardonable lateness' of the Chinese government and the negligence of its Stalinist health system. It has been said throughout that if China had not suppressed and minimised the breadth of the epidemic, it could have been stopped much more quickly. That's obvious. Because it was in November 2002 that it began to break out in the Guandong Province with a hundred deaths, forcing Peking to impose considerable quarantine measures. All states are responsible
However, the observers of the WHO, i.e., the governments of the developed countries, who denounced the silence and the non-cooperation of China (1), knew from the beginning of February at least of the exceptional virulence of this epidemic of influenza and of the fact that it took the form of a "strange, contagious disease" (2). But it was only once the epidemic was declared in Hong Kong, in Vietnam and Singapore, and above all faced with its extension towards the developed countries, that the WHO reacted publicly. Nevertheless, despite the alert of March 12, it still took weeks for measures to be organised over the total of the more or less twenty countries struck by SARS. In Toronto, where at least one case was already noted, the health authorities of Ontario waited until March 26, two weeks later, to declare a state of emergency. Reputed for its 'level of excellence' the health system of Ontario was overwhelmed to the point where one of its hospitals decided, "To treat all illnesses except SARS because of the threat of not being able to attend to even a minor road accident", when 50 to 60% of those attacked by the disease were doctors and nurses (3, 4). The epidemic caused 24 deaths.
In France, under the pretext that airport restrictions were sufficient to prevent the disease arriving, the state did nothing to ensure that Air France flights coming from at-risk countries were disinfected. But due to the costs of exploitation and commerce, the concern of the air transport companies in the world was to note with horror, not the planetary expansion of a mortal sickness, but a "potential loss" of 4 billion dollars ascribable to the outbreak, twice the losses after the attacks of September 11, 2001 and during the conflict with Iraq put together!. If the leaders of the 'rich' countries denounce with zeal in their media the 'marginal sanitation' of entire areas of Chinese society and the corruption of all types which exist there, it's to make us forget the risks that their irresponsibility brings to the population.
Remember the blood contaminated with HIV, deliberately and consciously used for transfusions for hundreds of haemophiliacs in the mid-80s in France, for the good and simple reason that it was necessary to move stocks, while the heat deactivation technique was perfectly well known, but American. Remember 'Mad Cow disease' whose meat was again sold quite deliberately whereas they knew that it bore the mortal illness CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease). The list is long of the heinous crimes of the dominant class.
We know what the bourgeoisies of the developed countries have done against the development of AIDS, which has killed about 25 million human beings in the world since the beginning of the 80s: a late attempt to contain it here, letting it go in the poor countries where it was seen as bad luck. For 2002 alone, 3 million people died of AIDS and 5 million new declared cases have appeared. Out of the 42 million present sufferers (whose mortality rate is 90%), 70% are Africans, which says enough in itself: this continent has simply been delivered up to misery and decomposition in all its forms, without our 'civilised' bourgeoisies turning a hair. Another quite significant fact is that 20% of new cases concern Eastern Europe (notably Russia) and Asia (India and China closely follow one another). For the latter, the number of HIV positives will go from one million now to ten million in 2010, the result of a massive plan for blood tests and transfusions without adequate hygiene. While everyone's occupied looking at SARS under the microscope, the media haven't made much noise about this reality. Not to 'panic' their populations perhaps?
In any case, the aim is to hinder people from making the link between these 'new' sicknesses that arise from the decomposition of the capitalist world and its incapacity to really eradicate them. New expressions of the mortal sickness of capitalism
Thus the media has not shown much interest on the "very worrying context of the emergence of infections" (5) at the world level: "Nile fever has established itself in the United States (254 deaths in 2002 and no treatment). New strains of Dengue Fever (20,000 deaths in 2002 and no treatment) imported from Asia - a sickness that was thought to be eradicated - are presently colonising South America and infecting 100 million people a year in the world. (...) The Cerebro-spinal Meningitus bacteria are� presently rife in Burkina and has infected 6,300 people and has killed close to 1,000" (6). The SARS virus, this 'serial killer' is a mutant virus in the same vein as HIV: a virus of animal origin whose specificity is to have jumped the species barrier. Not usually causing serious illnesses, animals such as poultry transmitting viruses through their excrement to pigs only provoke, in normal conditions, colds among humans. But it's precisely the conditions of modern stock farming, linked to chronic lack of basic hygiene that facilitates the mutation of new viruses which propagate so much more easily where there is a high population density.
Thus the region of Guandong, from where the epidemic started out, is known for numerous intensive stock farms and its pork and poultry markets. The most affected area in Hong Kong, Kowloon, has a density of 165,000 people per square kilometre. The chicken flu in Hong Kong in 1997, which 'only' killed 6 people due to human non-transmission of the virus and thanks to the massive destruction 1.5 million chickens, had its origins in similar conditions.
The famous Spanish influenza, which appeared between 1918 and 1919 and in three waves of infection caused between 25 and 50 million deaths, several times more than World War I itself, had the same characteristics: duck droppings loaded with viruses ended up in pig troughs and were then consumed by humans.
Excessive deforestation again plays an important role in the development of animal viruses among man. Thus between 1998 and 1999, the appearance of the Nipah virus in Malaysia, propagated by bats through the loss of their natural habitat and settling in intensively cultivated orchards, caused more than 100 deaths, again a limited number due to the non-transmission of the virus between humans.
These sicknesses are, they tell us, 'the ransom of progress". No! These are the products of the weakness of capitalism which, for a century, has no longer been capable of bringing any progress to the whole of humanity: only misery and destruction in all their forms. Faced with the advanced decomposition of its system, the dominant class has nothing other to offer than ideological lies and repression. Thus the Chinese state, in order to face up to the wave of SARS, found nothing better to do than threaten the population with heavy prison sentences, even the death penalty (!) for those "who voluntarily spread pathogenic agents". A sneeze in public and it's jail lofty circles indeed for microbiological overcrowding of all types!
The aberrant nature of such repressive brutality is evident. But the cynicism of the bourgeoisies of the developed countries themselves knows no limits: since the end of the spread of SARS in the west, a near silence is organised on its ravages in East Asia as well as a real cordon sanitaire erected around China through the closure of its territorial frontiers with Russia and central Asia. They can die, but among themselves! On the other hand, our 'civilised' governments deplore the fact of not gaining anything from the drop in commercial relations with China. If the Chinese "little soldiers of neo-capitalism" die of SARS, they can joke about it, providing they continue to produce for the world capitalist market. But once they start propagating their microbes over the planet with the products of their exploitation, no - a million times no.
Here is the real face of capitalism in all the horror that it reserves for humanity.
(1) It was the US ambassador herself who reported to the Peking office of the WHO at the beginning of February, the existence of a "strange sickness and many deaths in Canton" (quoted in Le Monde, 4/5 May 2003).
(4) It should be noted that the Canadian authorities used the event in order to reorganise the functioning of hospitals in the eventuality of war or a bio-terrorist attack, an idea which spans all the developed countries.
(5) Science and Future no.15, May 2003.