Thursday | April 10, 2003
The spread of SARS from China to the west is a political crisis as much as a health crisis.
The Chinese government has a habit of hiding unpleasant facts. Like the rate of HIV infection in rural China, which by any standard, is a raging epidemic. There is no fate worse than to be a Chinese HIV patient. Because not only do you not get any help, the government pretends that it it doesn't exist.
The Chinese gerontocracy, communism is a fig leaf for rampant greed and corruption, is afraid of losing face. I know that sounds like an Orientalist canard, but when it comes to issues like prostitution and HIV, the Chinese will not admit these issues.
The fact that the Chinese government ignored the spread of a new, aparently airborne disease from the rural areas, and then conspire to hide it from the WHO, which could have worked with the US CDC to provide technical help. Instead, the Chinese government supressed the news and it now pops up via airliners, around the world.
There are cities which are linked to each other, London to New York, Toronto to Hong Kong and Singapore. A disease in one can spread via airliner to another in less than a day. It is the worst sort of political abuse and criminal neglect to hide a medical problem of this severity.
More importanly, the Chinese government's political decision could have killed millions of people if it had infected something like the hajj to Mecca. We live in an increasingly interdependent world where one political decision, and hiding SARS was a political decision, could have truly tragic consequences.
The economic effect on Asia and even Chinatowns in the West has been dramatic. Fear of SARS is endemic. And it all flows from a political decision to hide what some party officials thought would be an embarassment.
Steve GilliardPosted April 10, 2003 05:12 AM | Comments (32)