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Corruption and Avian Flu: China's Dynamic Duo of Destruction   (November 12, 2005)

If you follow events in China closely, you already know that corruption reaches from the roots to the treetops in every sector of the government and economy. Now, those same sectors are tasked with controlling the H5N1 avian flu virus.Unsurprisingly, counterfeit bird flu vaccines are being distributed, along with all the other useless counterfeit medications which flood the nation. As reported in the S.F. Chronicle and other newspapers,
"In Liaoning, the government warned earlier that counterfeit vaccines were being sold, raising the possibility that millions of chickens, ducks and other birds weren't properly inoculated. China suffers from rampant counterfeiting of food and medicines."
The problem of bird flu spreading in China is not chicken feed, to use a poor pun; the last two global flu pandemics began in China, back in the 60s when there were far fewer chickens in China and far fewer transportation links. The opportunities for avian flu to jump to humans is by all accounts greater now than then, and the vast increase in trade and travel within China more or less guarantees a rapid dispersion of any flu outbreak.

Chinese authorities are doing their best to control outbreaks; to quote the story linked above, "The first case in Jinzhou on Oct. 26 prompted officials to destroy more than 6 million birds." That's a lot of chickens. But the real story here is that the chickens of pervasive corruption are coming home to roost. We all know what happens when watered-down vaccines or germicides are administered to humans and other animals; the infectious agents (virus, bacteria or parasites) quickly become resistant, and even strong doses of the medication are no longer effective.

To put it plainly: the standard Chinese practise of distributing counterfeit drugs (packaged as legitimate medications) will enable the stealthy spread of the virus and cultivate super-viruses which are resistant to existing vaccines. This is a non-trivial part of the avian-flu story, and it may well be the mechanism which actively enables the virus to make the genetic jump to humans. (For more on the systemic nature of corruption in China, see my report China: An Interim Report.)

Given the obvious dangers, you might think that the government would step up its efforts to control corruption; instead, it seems to have stepped up its suppression of whistle-blowers; here is a China-based blog on the same case of Huang Jingao, who wrote a celebrated open letter describing the deep corruption of local officials who were grabbing farmers' land to sell to developers. Now Jingao has been imprisoned for life under trumped-up charges of accepting bribes (a universal perk of Chinese officialdom) and having mistresses (another perk of Chinese officialdom). The irony must not be lost on his persecutors; lock away the whistle-blower by accusing him of the ubiquitous, run-of-the-mill corruption which is par for the course in China.

Put these two stories together, and you have a society too corrupt to effectively control avian flu. It is impossible not to conclude that a serious outbreak of H5N1 avian flu in China is inevitable.

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copyright © 2005 Charles Hugh Smith. All rights reserved in all media.

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