Friday, June 03, 2005

Waiting for the Barbarians II

Senator Bill Frist, the Republican majority leader, sounds the alarm on the viruses about to be unleashed by the "densely intermingled Asian and African animal and human populations" on pristine America. But fear not, he has a plan for a Final Solution too:

"A federal initiative as ambitious as the Manhattan Project is needed to protect the nation from infectious diseases, Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, said Wednesday in a lecture at Harvard Medical School.

Dr. Frist, who studied medicine at Harvard, said the effort would defend against both bioterrorism and diseases that are spread naturally. He said that the United States and the rest of the world were unprepared for a potential pandemic despite signs that emerging viruses like the avian flu are capable of causing sharp losses of life.

"Any number of known and unknown viruses for which at present there is neither immunization nor cure are at this moment cooking in Asia and Africa, where they arise in hotbeds of densely intermingled human and animal populations," said Dr. Frist, who was delivering the Marshall J. Seidman Lecture to the Department of Health Care Policy.

Dr. Frist said he had not yet developed an estimate of the costs to the federal government of his proposal.

Elements of his proposal are incorporated in pending Senate legislation on biodefense, but he said his immediate goal was to open a discussion about the need to take seriously the threat such diseases pose. "I've got to build a case for it," he said, laying out the idea of a close working relationship among the government, the private sector and educational institutions that would rival the Manhattan Project, the World War II initiative to build the atomic bomb.

"I propose an unprecedented effort - a Manhattan Project for the 21st century - not with the goal of creating a destructive new weapon, but to defend against destruction wreaked by infectious disease and biological weapons," Dr. Frist said.

The senator, who has been mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2008, noted that Britain, France and Canada were already far ahead of the United States in trying to secure the scarce supplies of the antiviral agent for the avian flu.

"We have decided upon going to the moon and then done so in a few short years," Dr. Frist told his audience. "We must open our eyes to face the single greatest threat to our safety and security today, but also to seize our single greatest opportunity." (By THE NEW YORK TIMES, June 2, 2005).


Post a Comment

<< Home