by Jan Baughman
(Swans - January 16, 2006) While numerous countries are struggling with avian flu cases and destroying their vast flocks of poultry (and food and livelihood), others are implementing plans to protect their citizens from potential exposure, and the World Bank is seeking over a billion dollars to address global needs. Meantime, America is getting prepared in its own special way for a potential pandemic. Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt is state-hopping around the country, from Vermont, to Rhode Island, to Georgia with only 47 to go, to talk about local planning for a bird flu pandemic.
"Pandemics are global in nature but their effects are always local," (1) says the learned Secretary, either not understanding the meaning of pandemic, or worse, understanding it and shifting the burden of responsibility from the federal to the state and local governments thereby leaving us once again with no centralized plan to respond to a large-scale disaster.
Pandemic: An epidemic over a wide geographic area and affecting a large proportion of the population.
In case you've forgotten, Mike Leavitt is a former insurance company CEO, Utah governor, and head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, with a bachelor's degree in economics and business. Having Mike Leavitt running HHS and holding responsibility for the country's health is about as intelligent as charging the former commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association with responsibility for national disaster response and preparedness. Frequent hand washing is advised.
The man responsible for America's health and well being is also using his road trip to unveil the fancy new tools that the federal agency in charge of our nation's health has developed to help prepare for a pandemic, including the "Faith-Based and Community Organizations Pandemic Influenza Checklist."
- Determine the potential impact of a pandemic on usual activities and how it might alter the delivery of services;
- Consider the organization's role in stopping rumors, misinformation, fear and anxiety;
- Advise staff, members and communities they serve to follow information provided by public health authorities;
- Evaluate access to mental health and social services during a pandemic;
- Identify persons with special needs served by the organization such as the elderly, disabled and people with limited English language skills; ensure their needs are included in the response plan;
- Evaluate the organization's usual activities and services including rites and religious practices if applicable to identify those that could facilitate virus spread from person to person; set policies to modify those activities to prevent the spread of pandemic influenza.
I guess the part about praying for the pandemic to spare <insert your state here> goes without saying; what is alarming is that the mention of frequent hand washing and isolation of cases does too. Instead, the churches are lead (if one reads between the checklist lines) to establish a system for parishioners to tithe from home; ward off rumors about the wrath of God and the coming of the Rapture; hold frequent prayer groups for those in need; and figure out a way to distribute the blood of Christ without infecting everyone...
There's probably not much money for real programs left in the HHS budget, which normally consumes about 25% of federal funds, given the costly war on evildoers and the like. The Veterans Affairs system is experiencing the same challenges, and with the number of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) claims up 80% in the past 5 years, it is investigating potential fraud (3) as its payments for PTSD have reached $4.3 billion per year. Those dollars could buy a lot of flak vests, or fund the war on Iraq for nearly another month, not to mention funding the global effort to thwart a bird-flu pandemic and avoid financial ruin and hunger. One could also argue for controlling the spread of the PTSD epidemic by removing its source, but that would never fly...
The Pentagon is also faced with a lot of stress and budget challenges, and it has implemented a creative new -- and free -- program to make military families under the stress of war feel better through laughter. (4) Laughter expert retired Army colonel James "Scotty" Scott, who says he is "...blessed to be at the Pentagon," has traveled to more states than Mr. Leavitt to train families and family group leaders to put their war worries aside and "walk like a penguin, laugh like a lion and blurt 'ha, ha, hee, hee and ho, ho.'"
One doesn't know whether to laugh or cry as we ignore every rule of common sense, rational thinking, reason, nature, humanity, and become the laughing stock of the entire world. It's almost, but not quite, enough to make you want to pray.
Let's find a vaccine against the avian flu for Swans: