Money needed to stop SARS

Not far below the media war-hype radar, an international worry is mounting over Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), a dangerous respiratory disease.

Not much is known about this disease except its outcome: many are becoming sick and too many are dying. In fact the physician who identified the disease died from it.

The origin of the disease seems to be South East Asia, but beware. This kind of identification is more a reflection of bias than an attempt to deal with SARS.

Information is slowly leaking from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the federal agency in charge of public health. The reason for the failure of the CDC is simple. The CDC is embroiled in a highly controversial small pox inoculation program.

The Bush administration is demanding that the CDC convince public health professionals and workers to be inoculated, even though there is no reason for such a program. The real reason for the program is the Bush administration’s war strategy – get everyone involved by making everyone fearful of terrorists. Now that it has become apparent that the smallpox vaccine may adversely affect people with heart conditions, they have issued an alert to stop all smallpox vaccination of anyone with a history of heart problems.

But, the damage may already been done. The CDC budget is crippled by the smallpox program. How much is left in their current budget for other public health programs is questionable.

Other problems lie in the $74 billion war chest that the Bush administration is insisting on. The right wing is correct about one thing, there is just so much money to go around.

The fact is that the federal treasuries are bare for the needed public health programs to protect us from problem such as SARS.

In addition, the ripping off of federal Medicare funds by Senate Majority leader Bill Frist’s Hospital Corporation of America and now Health South, another major for-profit hospital, means that many seniors and disabled persons will have even more difficulty getting decent health care from Medicare and other federal programs.

All of these Medicare monies should – and could – have been used to give all seniors a prescription drug program and other benefits.

Now, because of the political power of HCA and Health South, the Senate and House are attempting to feed them more money – money that should be used by CDC to protect the general population against SARS and other communicable diseases.

The ripping off of Medicare must be stopped. We can’t wait for the 2004 elections, actions are needed now.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org