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¡No tenemos dinero!

28 April 2009
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I believe one of the great lessons of this swine flu epidemic 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 weakness 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.

(Javier Flores in Jornada, translation by Esther, at “From Xico“)

Mexico, as many of us who comment on it get a little tired of continually having to point out, is NOT a “third world country”.  It is a major economic player, and is considered a “middle class country”.  It only appears “third world” by being next door to the most consumer oriented of the wealthy countries, and usually people who call Mexico “third world” have never been someplace like Bolivia or Bukino Faso or Bhutan, and don’t recognize that “third world” originally referred to political structure and not aggegate wealth.  As it is, even with very large, bulging pockets of poverty, Mexico’s health, wealth and general standard of living is about equivalent to a Central European country like Bulgaria or Slovakia.  Not rich, but not poor.

U.S. reports on the flu pandemic — even from “progressive” reporters like Rachel Maddow — tend to focus on Mexico as backwards and in need of technical assistance from abroad.  The scientific expert interviewed by Maddow (who, as far as I can tell, is neither a scientist, nor an expert on Mexico) claimed Mexico lacked public health facilities.  Um… it’s the fact that it does have a good public health care system that — even with mistakes and the usual political mismanagement — has so far limited the damage.

Wire reports collected by The [Mexico City] News suggest it’s not any lack of medical or emergency preparedness know-how, but knowledge of what U.S. news organizations expect:

Mexico has participated in high-level international drills to prepare for pandemics, but the government has been slow to update the world on the flu death toll and not given a clear message to reassure people at home and abroad, analysts said.

“The Mexican government is more prepared for this than most people might think,” said Armand Peschard-Sverdrup at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, who has participated in drills with Mexican health officials.

“I know for a fact they do have the competency to address this issue effectively, but so far there hasn’t been any government official giving any media coverage trying to reassure Americans of that,” he said.

In other words, the story is there is no story.  People themselves are staying home and dealing with the situation.  Doctors and nurses and health care providers (including the Army) are going a decent job, with somewhat limited (but not by any means unsophisticated) equipment.  You don’t see … and you won’t … people looting food stores, or panic buying, or getting crazy and shooting each other.  Of course there is political and social fallout, and there will be reports of people turned down for medical care, or occasionally bone-headed actions motivated by fear and ignorance.  That’s to be expected.  Overall, the system has worked, the government was prepared (unlike some others) and worked very well.

But… as Flores pointed out in his essay, performing well is not performing as well as it could.    I’m not sure Bulgaria or Slovakia would have had the facilities it needed to immediately test for new viral strains either, but — as part of the European Union — the tests might have been done quickly outside the country.  The North American Free Trade Association is not analogous (nor is there any real incentive for the three countries to create such a union), which means Mexico is going to have to go it alone in growing it’s scientific capabilities.

And that is going to take money.

It’s a bit of a leap, I know, but before the flu outbreak consumed everyone (including me), I had intended to write on justice reforms.  I bookmarked a story from Contra Costa County, California (one of the richest counties in the United States).  Because of budget constraints, the county attorney

… will no longer prosecute felony drug cases involving smaller amounts of narcotics. That means anyone caught with less than a gram of methamphetamine or cocaine, less than 0.5 grams of heroin and fewer than five pills of ecstasy, OxyContin or Vicodin won’t be charged.

People who are suspected of misdemeanor drug crimes, break minor traffic laws, shoplift, trespass or commit misdemeanor vandalism will also be in the clear. Those crimes won’t be prosecuted, either.

Even a highly advanced, technologically sophisticated, wealthy country’s justice system can only operate with adequate financing.  The Mexican justice system is faulted for being slow, and technologically backwards and — like medical testing — not up to the highest standards.  And reforms are progressing, slowly.

Medical reforms will progress… slowly.

My concern is that Mexico, dependent as it is (and has been) on the United States, and with a conservative administration that has invested too heavily in responding to U.S. demands to “do something” about a single U.S. concern (narcotics imports) — and has not been keen to explore alternatives to the U.S. connection, is unable to invest what it should in more critical areas, like science, health technology and justice reform.

The spirit is willing, but the cash flow is weak.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. 30 April 2009 2:32 am

    I believe one of the great lessons of this swine flu epidemic 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.

  2. 20 June 2009 4:39 pm

    ademas te invito a visitar mi blog para que me conozcas y tengas mas confianza en lo que te digo, yo di el paso y no me arrepiento de haberlo hecho http//deybicabrera.blogspot.com

Trackbacks

  1. Flu posts « The Mex Files
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