Health policy instead of pandemic politics
by Wolfgang Sachsenröder
Is Covid-19 a Wuhan virus or a China virus? Whether the origin was the special market in Wuhan, it is perhaps not yet possible to say for sure. We know that more viruses live in bats than in other wild animals and that some of the numerous species flutter around as a living virus laboratory that can constantly generate new variants. The virologists and bat experts work intensively and internationally in an international network to uncover the connections, including mixed Chinese and American teams of scientists. With the exponentially increasing number of infections, the level of insecurity among the world’s population increases, because with today’s globalized interdependence and mass tourism, the viruses will not respect any national border.
In this respect, political communication and information policy are becoming a decisive factor in the pandemic and the fight against it, although it is already clear that the national differences could hardly be greater. While Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore, but also China criticized as the country of origin, operate more successfully than most countries outside Asia, some politicians play the old „blame game“. Pointing the finger at others has a long tradition, especially in Europe, but also between Europe and the USA.
Syphilis only became known in Europe after Columbus‘ discovery of America, and raged epidemically in Naples three years later. It was alternately referred to as „Italian disease“ or „French sickness“ depending on the national perspective, but spread quickly across Europe and beyond.
The „Spanish flu“, which claimed 50 million or more lives worldwide in 1918/19, did not originate in Spain. Medical historians now believe it has been proven that this highly contagious viral flu developed in Haskell County, Kansas, which experienced a rush of settlers in the 1890s, who were given 65 hectares of prairie per family and mainly raised cattle, pigs and poultry . The pandemic, apparently caused by mutating viruses, then broke out in 1918 in military camps in Kansas, where American recruits were prepared for use in the First World War. Although thousands fell ill and many died within a few days, tens of thousands were sent to war in Europe and spread the virus. In order not to endanger the US’s entry into the war, which was controversial in domestic politics, the press was massively censored and threatened with sentences of up to twenty years in prison. Reports of flu were similarly suppressed in France and England, but not so in Spain, which was not involved in the war. This led absurdly to the spread of the term „Spanish flu“, a purely politically motivated and generated misnomer.
The “finger pointing” went far beyond that. The German opponent of the war and his well-known pharmaceutical industry in the USA, Bayer’s top-of-the-line aspirin, which was also very successful in America, and heroin, which only became intravenously so dangerous, suggested that the „Huns“ also caused the flu epidemic. In September 1918, medical officer Philip Doane officially announced that the Germans had caused epidemics in Europe and that there was therefore no reason to assume that they would treat the USA „more gently“.
Several other contagious diseases have meanwhile been described as discriminatory for individual countries. In the first half of the 19th century, when globalization had already advanced considerably due to steam shipping, a cholera epidemic that had arisen in the Indian Ganges Delta was called „Asian cholera“. One practical consequence was that Meka pilgrims from South and Southeast Asia were subjected to stricter quarantine regulations than the „more hygienic“ Europeans on the same travel routes. Hantavirus and Ebola virus were named after the rivers of the same name in Korea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo after they were identified by western scientists.
Of course, they could have been created in any other place in the world. In this respect, the WHO’s decision to name Covid-19 regardless of location is very positive, even if that doesn’t suit the American president in his trade war with China. It is to be hoped that politicians who, practically without exception, are not medical experts, even if they head ministries of health, will concentrate on their main political task, namely to decide on the medically and politically necessary measures. This includes honest communication of all important information for the unsettled population and combating rumors and objectively incorrect information. Appeasement is certainly not one of them.