Save the NHS – bring Ebola to Epsom.

As the new school term begins, many new priorities arise. For some of us, it’s booking a cheap holiday somewhere warm now that it’s not full of sunburnt brummies and their whining kids. For others, it’s whether they should get a flu jab[1].

Of course, when your kid comes home from their new school bursting with fresh ideas, new swear words and a cornucopia of virulent microorganisms, your priorities are apt to change and you’ll end up searching the Internet for affordable private schooling, whether you should wash out your kids’ mouths for huzzing and whether their symptoms are more suggestive of common influenza or the Ebola virus.

If it’s the former then you’ll be glad you were able to pop into Boots and get a flu jab for eight quid. What an age in which we live. Why, one might ask, can the poor West Africans not pop into their local supermarket and get an Ebola jab?

Oh yeah… they don’t have a nearby healthcare provider, or the money to buy the medicine. And the medicine doesn’t exist.

Hope is on the horizon for the happy little Africuns, though, as the wandering gaze of the benevolent military-industrial complex has picked up their plight and has commissioned the legendarily kind pharmaceutical industry to philanthropically develop… hang on, what?

It can cost up to a billion quid to bring a drug successfully to market, a figure that even the least risk-averse of plutocrats is reluctant to spend on a pill that nobody wants, which is why Chinese gangs aren’t sending you sixty e-mails a day with an offer of penis-reduction tablets. We have a flu jab because we rich people, stuck in our air-conditioned hellholes breathing each others’ recycled coughs and farts, are willing to spend our hardish-earned wages on one, or to suffer taxation sufficient to let our local NHS trust massively overspend on one. We’re less prone to Ebola so to date have shown very little interest in inoculation for a disease we’re pretty sure we’re never going to catch. Now the media have made us aware that a fleeing victim clinging to the bottom of a bus full of immigration officials could bring haemorrhagic horror to a GPs surgery near us and suddenly we want to know if there’s a cure.

Well a cure’s closer than we think but for reasons rather less likely to bring comfort than those in the know would comfortably admit. Current front runner ZMapp was initially developed as a part of Bioshield, the excitingly-named initiative to develop biodefence measures. Biodefence? Holy crap (bloody crap, more like, but still…) is someone planning to fire Ebola missiles? Well, you can guarantee some arsehole’s given it some thought, can’t you?

Meanwhile, diseases that you don’t catch in Sevenoaks that show little potential for effective weaponisation[2] continue to kill far more people than Ebola and we’re quite content to see bugger-all done about that.

The free-market model of drug development entails someone taking a risk and investing in the development of a cure for something that might become profitable. The public good can go to hell if it’s not likely to generate private profit. This can represent a problem if there’s a sudden pandemic of something that we thought we were safe from because unless it’s a candidate for bio weaponry, a cure is likely to be a long way off.

So what happens if virulent plague struck leafy Surrey?

Well, it might, just might, help to convince people that healthcare is something that’s too big to be run purely with profit in mind. If the well-off in the comfortable Conservative boroughs suddenly found blood spurting from every orifice they might be tempted to get their MP to phone up the CEO of GlaxoSmithkline and ask where the magic pills are. A laissez-faire shrug and a chirp of “No money in it, mate” would be a fine demonstration of what happens when medicine is organised around profit and not around the public good. A few people might put two and two together (providing their fingers haven’t dropped off) and realise that this is what’s going to happen to every aspect of healthcare if we keep selling off the NHS. The problem with public/private partnerships is that the public is a credulous idiot (if you’re offended by that, may I offer the election of David Cameron and, over the pond, George W as evidence) and corporations are psychopaths. I think we know who’s getting a knife in the back in that scenario.

But even the plutocrats know that eventually the opium-dazed masses will eventually snap. Perhaps a quick dose of Ebola in the leafy suburbs is just what we need.

 

[1] The answer is ‘yes’. I don’t want to listen to your sniffing and subsequent wracking cough in the office, train, and restaurant and strip club. (All one venue. I have a weird job)

[2] I feel a faint surge of pride that my spell-check would only allow this word with the Americanised ‘z’ spelling. I still corrected it, mind…

 

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