About 10 days ago, I wondered out loud how a World Health Organisation that believed that there was such a thing as a “tobacco epidemic” could possibly cope with an all too real Ebola epidemic spiralling out of control in Africa. It soon came to my attention that at almost the same time Romano Grieshaber, a retired German professor of medicine (whom I’ve mentioned before) had written an article (in German, of course) on his blog along more or less the same lines. So together with regular German-speaking readers, Brigitte and Reinhold (many thanks to both of them!), for the past few days I’ve been helping to translate his article into English, which I now publish. Please note that many of the links provided in the body of the text are to German webpages.
Tobacco epidemic vs Ebola epidemic: Spot the difference.
By Romano Grieshaber.
First published: September 16, 2014
It is high time to also pay tribute at this point to Professor Günter Ropohl’s very well written book “Besorgnisgesellschaft” (The Worried Society). It is slim but extremely rich in content, and a masterful analysis of the interaction of influences in a society filled with anxieties, where fomenting fear becomes a lucrative business for so-called “experts” offering an appropriate supply to match the associated demand. At Amazon you can find not only the book itself – which I hereby would like to highly recommend -, but also my review of it. And you also can look forward to an interview of Professor Ropohl in my blog soon.
A recent event reminded me of a quote from my review:
Developments in world politics – Syria, Iraq, Ukraine – have sometimes prompted a glimmer of the idea that it is not a matter of course to persevere with such pseudo-problems as the fight against tobacco use. The persistence of the WHO and its supporting state, semi-state, non-governmental and commercial organizations in the global implementation of the FCTC, the “Framework Convention on Tobacco Control”, is not the consequence of the world having nothing else to worry about any more. Behind this stubbornness are officials from regions of the world where life expectancy is about 80 years, and where for decades a peaceful life without major risks has been taken for granted, and promoted by pharmaceutical companies, which in turn have their own profit-oriented agenda.
In these circles, spoilt by decades of prosperity, no-one wants to think it normal that human life is finite, and that living in good health and sound mind to an age of between 80 and 90 years will continue to be permitted to only a few people to enjoy. These useless officials who have appointed themselves the guardians of our health often seriously imagine that if they can only stop us enjoying eating, drinking and smoking, then we will be healthy and happy and eternally grateful to them. What will these people do, should they ever be confronted with a real, acute and massive threat?
The development of the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, where the World Health Organization is now trying to cover up their dismal failure – at a stage in the propagation of this viral disease when it would have been manageable – with particularly loud lamentations and accusations against others, may be understood to be an answer to my question.
In the fight against tobacco, the WHO is well known for liking to use dramatic vocabulary. According to them, if the strongest countermeasures are not taken, a “global tobacco epidemic” will cause the deaths of eight million people by 2030. And eighty percent of those deaths will occur in developing countries. The same applies, by the way, for all the so-called “non-communicable diseases” which the World Health Organization blames primarily on the lifestyle of patients. I have already expressed my doubts elsewhere, particularly with respect to the last point, as follows:
Non-communicable diseases are “a group of disorders associated with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and mental disorders.” Worldwide,”according to the WHO, in 2008 an estimated 36 million of the world’s 57 million deaths [have been] due to non-communicable diseases”, including “9 million people under the age of 60” and with almost “80 percent of these deaths occurring in developing countries.”
These numbers are rather astonishing. For example, in Africa, where about 12.5 million deaths occur annually, the ten leading causes of death are:
• Respiratory diseases
• Diarrheal diseases
• Infant deaths
• Cardiovascular diseases
• Heart disease
• Road traffic accidents
Non-communicable diseases in the developing countries thus appear to play only a minor role (at least in Africa) as cause of deaths.
If so far one was shaking one’s head in amazement at a WHO that magnifies supposed epidemics of tobacco, alcohol, and abundant food into ostensibly terrible threats in developing countries, in light of the tragic failure to prevent the spread of Ebola one is now filled with incredulous anger. For in this case there actually is an epidemic in the actually-meant sense, not just a hyped up, advertising-style bogeyman to frighten us with the dramatic choice of words into political and social acceptance of required measures.
The consequences of the Ebola epidemic for the entire population of the affected areas are immediately visible and tangible. It is not only those falling ill from Ebola fever who suffer. Where health workers fall ill themselves (which happens to an alarming extent), or no longer come to work for fear of contagion (which also happens often enough), other patients cannot be treated, and the risk of death from actually-treatable diseases increases. And where not only old and already sick people die, but also many previously healthy adults between the age of 30 and 45, there are orphans left behind, old people left unprovided for, and fields left uncultivated, so that further misery is preprogrammed into a vicious circle that can last for years.
When would you have ever heard of such consequences brought about by, for example, the “diabetes epidemic”?
An epidemic is not, as the World Health Organization has been hammering into us in recent years, about the presence of numerous real or perceived health risks which may, or may not, lead in a few decades to more cases of illnesses of specific disease types that occur amongst the elderly. Although Wikipedia already obediently repeats that “epidemics” only in a “narrow sense” entail outbreaks of infectious diseases, the restriction of the term to infectious diseases makes very good sense, as can be seen from the above side effects. A “temporal and spatial clustering” of disease cases, as Wikipedia soberly states the matter, means that in the case of an infectious disease, a rapid and hardly stoppable spread of the disease occurs once a critical mass of disease cases is exceeded. In the case of Ebola, this means that within the next few weeks thousands of cases of illness are currently predicted, and in the meantime experts no longer rule out an ongoing epidemic, lasting many months, and perhaps even longer than a year, with tens of thousands of cases of illness – because the disease now has reached the Liberian capital, Monrovia, where many people live together in a confined space. It’s coming back to haunt us that a means of containing the epidemic was only half-heartedly looked for, and therefore was not found, while it was limited to rural and less populated areas.
Statistically, at least every second case of the disease will mean a new death. A new death, mind you, usually days after the onset of the disease, and many of these deaths involve adults before or around middle age. That so far Europe is considered at relatively little risk of a spillover of the epidemic – since the transfer occurs only by direct contact with infected people or their body fluids (thus not during the incubation period when the disease has not yet erupted) – is neither comforting nor reassuring. Firstly, a human life in Africa is worth as much as ours. Secondly, there is a risk that should not be underestimated that Ebola variants may form by a process of mutation, whose transmission in Europe may not be readily brought under control.
The World Health Organization has now finally noticed that this time the Ebola outbreak has reached threatening dimensions:
As WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan told agencies and officials last week in New York City and Washington, DC, development partners need to prepare for an “exponential increase” in Ebola cases in countries currently experiencing intense virus transmission.
Many thousands of new cases are expected in Liberia over the coming 3 weeks.
WHO and its Director-General will continue to advocate for more Ebola treatment beds in Liberia and elsewhere, and will hold the world accountable for responding to this dire emergency with its unprecedented dimensions of human suffering.
The World Health Organization thus pre-emptively blames “the world” if ever the situation should worsen. This is a piece of impudence, because in fact, it should have been the task of the WHO to prevent the spread of the disease at a stage when it was still manageable. According to the organization “Médecins Sans Frontières” who were desperately struggling against it during that phase, the WHO not only did not respond to their warnings for months and tried to downplay the extent of the problem, but also withdrew staff in the time before and even during (!) the Ebola outbreak in Africa. It was not until several months after the outbreak of the epidemic that the WHO decided to declare the international medical emergency.
The progress of the epidemic so far: The so-called “patient zero” was ascertained retrospectively for December 2013 in Guinea, West Africa. From February 2014, the first cases of Ebola fever in that country were made public, whose Ministry of Health then, on 23 March 2014, officially informed the WHO of an outbreak of Ebola fever. At this point in time, 49 cases of the disease were known, of which 29 ended in fatalities.
By June 2014, the epidemic had spread to two other countries, Sierra Leone and Liberia. The death toll was estimated by the WHO at that time to be 350. Since then, the virus has been spreading more and more rapidly, and when the WHO on 08/08/2014 finally forced itself to declare the disease as an international emergency, the spread was already too far advanced to still be able to stop the catastrophe. On the 4th of September there were 2,106 confirmed cases of illness and 1,050 deaths. The situation three days later, on 7 September: 2,639 confirmed cases of illness and 1,386 deaths. Neighbouring countries are fighting desperately against a spillover of the epidemic onto their territory by closing the borders to the countries affected. Individual confirmed cases of the disease are already known to exist in some other African countries, such as Nigeria, Senegal and Benin. Whether it is possible to prevent further spread is still uncertain. What is certain is that in the countries affected the worst is yet to come.
When in the summer of 2009 the World Health Organisation declared swine flu to be a pandemic, and the world was in panic mode for months, it was about a disease for which a mostly mild course was well documented, and for which the number of documented deaths were in the low three-figure range. So it is no wonder that it was rumoured that this controversial decision had been influenced by the pharmaceutical industry, and it is said that they didn’t do too badly out of the production of vaccines, which were subsequently hardly needed. As up until now neither vaccines nor drugs against Ebola have been developed, in this case perhaps was there simply no incentive (to convince the WHO to declare a pandemic)? One hardly dares to imagine what billions of dollars have been squandered by the WHO in the fight against the sham epidemics in the areas of nutrition /alcohol / tobacco, with the result that, now that a real epidemic has arrived, they have to pass round the collection plate. .
As I prophesied only a few weeks ago: The WHO, the same organization that cannot brag enough about their alleged “successes” in the fight against tobacco – achievements that are based on pure number crunching, because they lack any real evidence that their efforts have prevented deaths or can prevent them in the future – has failed miserably when it was faced with a real threat. The sufferers of recent weeks are also victims of the incompetence of health officials who have been PR shadow-boxing against pseudo-problems for so long that they no longer know how to fight real problems. This urgently needs to change.