British American Tobacco is spearheading a 52-company corporate drive in Uganda to counter the country’s anti-malaria campaign. BAT, which produces Kent, Dunhill and Lucky Strike cigarettes, argues that without proper controls, the Ugandan government's plan to use a weak DDT-based solution to spray houses could also damage agricultural crops (including, of course, tobacco), costing up to $400 million in exports and 600,000 jobs. Anti-malaria groups are up in arms, arguing that DDT spraying programs have not hurt exports in other countries, including South Africa, Zambia, and Madagascar.
Malaria kills more than 1 million people a year, according to the WHO, which supports the use of DDT to fight the disease. Tobacco related products kill nearly 5 million. The makers of a lethal product fighting malaria prevention measures in Africa? Le Carré couldn’t have written it any better.
There's an interesting story in today's New York Times about Google's philanthropy arm, Google.org, and the executive director it hired earlier this year, Larry Brilliant. Unlike most charities and foundations, Google.org won't actually be non-profit. It will be structured as a for-profit organization, which means that Google will have to pay taxes on whatever it earns. Dr. Brilliant, who played a big part in eradicating smallpox in India in the 1970s, says he had hesitations about this kind of structure at first, but he now believes that it will enable Google to donate more creatively by funding health care and environmental innovations that can be used to help cure the world's ills. "Why would we put Wi-Fi in a place where what they need is food and clean water?" he says. Seems like Brilliant has a wider scope and more practical way of thinking than a lot of the folks insulated out in Silicon Valley.
Regular readers will know that FP and Passport have been following closely the evidence that China is less than fully transparent on public health issues. Karl Taro Greenfeld gave a gripping account of China's effort to downplay SARS in our March/April issue. More recently, Passport linked here and here to hints of official dissembling on bird flu. Today, the Times of London is running a story that has the Chinese government fessing up to a coverup.
China revealed today that its first human death from bird flu was a soldier who died of the H5N1 strain in 2003, two years before the country first publicly acknowledged a human infection. The confirmation showed that the virus was present in China before the outbreak of the virus was disclosed elsewhere in Asia and raised questions about Beijing’s ability to detect emerging diseases, as well as its transparency.
We'll keep an eye out for future twists to what may be a complicated story.
At this very moment, Japanese health inspectors may be poring over the first shipment of U.S. beef to Japan in seven months. The Japanese cracked down on U.S. meat shipments after the first U.S. case of BSE in December 2003, but after months of wrangling the governments recently helped broker a deal to end the ban. Whether Japanese consumers will bite is another matter:
We don't know when we get the next shipment," the official said, adding that they would like to see reaction from Japanese consumers before making additional buy orders. Japanese retailers are generally cautious about restarting sales of U.S. beef, as media polls have shown that many Japanese consumers remain concerned about its safety.
In fact, one poll reports that more than 70 percent of Japanese won't be sampling the new shipments. Australian and South American exporters have benefited from these doubts, but some Japanese appear to have soured on beef altogether—it's declining as a source of protein in the country.
When the SARS virus hit China three years ago, Beijing responded with a massive coverup. In our March/April 2006 issue, Karl Taro Greenfeld explained how two brave journalists and one courageous doctor broke the silence before the virus had a chance to kill thousands more.
You would think that experience would have taught China a thing or two. Apparently not. A Chinese court has just jailed a goose farmer from the eastern province of Jiangsu who blew the whistle on China's bird flu cases. Here we go again.
Government officials and financial leaders got together this morning in Washington, D.C. to discuss the economic impact of an avian flu pandemic. The not-so-exciting consensus? Uncertainty.
The two most popular words at the conference, held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, were "it depends". It seems there are simply too many factors - the nature of the virus itself, the flexibility of supply chains, the capacity of critical information networks - to give any kind of accurate portrait of what an epidemic would mean for markets.
So what is the critical determing factor on which everyone agrees? How people - and governments - respond to a crisis when it emerges.
Global drug use is down this year, according to the new 2006 UN World Drug Report. While the UN Office on Drugs and Crime reported a stabilization and overal decline in the market for cocaine and other illicit drugs, its executive director, Antonio Maria Costa, warns that increased marijuana use combined with new, highly potent strains of the drug are rendering it as dangerous as heroin and cocaine. Costa criticized governments, especially the UK's, for relaxing their marijuana policies in recent years, saying that they have the "drug problem that they deserve."
This good news about the war on drugs does come with some oddities. It seems that the drug market might be the only one which flourishes both in war and peace: unrest in Afghanistan, where 89 percent of the world's opium originates, has the potential to contribute to increased production, while peace along the India-Pakistan border facilitates easier drug trafficking between the two nations.
There are some odd goings on in the Chinese medical community. A group of scientists submitted a research letter to the New England Journal of Medicine arguing that a 2003 case of SARS was actually bird flu. On Wednesday, after the Journal had already decided to publish the letter, at least one of the scientists sought to retract it for reasons that are unclear. The World Health Organization is following the case closely and wants a meeting with the Chinese authorities. Readers of FP will recall that in our March/April issue, Karl Taro Greenfeld chronicled the experience of a Chinese doctor who braved official censure to tell the world about SARS in China. It's too early to know for sure, but we may have more medical whistleblowers at work.
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