AH1N1: The population must be made aware of the risks involved 

 Points to Ponder 

By Lex

A First Point: Do we have an influenza incidence of epidemic proportions in the country right now; or rather did we have such an epidemic about a month back? I mean the seasonal bout of the ordinary influenza or the AH1N1 variety commonly called the swine flu? If we have had or have such an influenza epidemic, why is it that we were not given the information? The Ministry of Health cannot conclude either way just by looking at the few cases that have come to light on the basis of a few chosen patients. I remember that last year, due to the fact that influenza had taken epidemic proportions, schools were closed for at least one week. If we have or have had an influenza epidemic, why is it that the races in Champ de Mars or the football matches in various football grounds not cancelled, or why is it that any place where many persons gather for various activities were not closed down? We can say that there are three different types of medicines, let us call them “remedies” for the moment, for influenza prevailing in the country at the moment. Every influenza is caused by one variety of virus, and the virus of whatever variety multiplies very rapidly in the body of a person infected.

We must also consider the fact that any variety of virus mutates regularly and this year’s virus is not necessary exactly the same as last year’s. So the remedies also should follow the mutation of the virus. Is this done? I do not know. It is well known that a viral infection is the cause of influenza and there is no remedy as such for a viral infection except that the patient’s body is made to produce its own antibodies to fight the virus. That is what various vaccines are for, I am told.

First of all, there is the vaccine that is given to all Mauritians who are over 60 years of age. The vaccine and the service are both being provided free by the Ministry of Health. The purpose is to prevent persons from contracting the normal seasonal influenza. When a person is injected with this vaccine, he develops anti-bodies that will fight the virus responsible for influenza.

Then there is the medicine called Tamiflu, which is also provided by the Ministry of Health free of charge. This is a tablet that is given to those who have already been attacked by the virus responsible for the influenza of the AH1N1 variety or of any variety of influenza. An eventual patient cannot take this medicine for a disease not yet contracted and if he takes the medicine when he is in good health, he will be preventing the medicine from having any effect in case he gets the influenza. Tamiflu is the medicine that everyone wants to take, whether needed or not. Well, this is one of the habits of Mauritians, the moutons de Panurge mentality.

There are also the vaccines Humenza and Panenza, I am told. As with the other medicines, people get these vaccines free from the Ministry of Health. I am told that both these vaccines are derived from the same strain. They are given to eventual patients as a preventive measure in relation with the AH1N1 type of virus. We have been informed that those over sixty who have been vaccinated as a precautionary measure against influenza would not be vaccinated with Humenza or Panenza.

Now I have a question. People have been urged recently to get themselves vaccinated, and different vaccination sessions were organized in all corners of the country. The persons who were given priority were those employed in the health sector, the doctors, nursing officers and paramedical employees. How many of those persons, who are at risk for being in close contact with the patients, have got themselves vaccinated? I am told very few, even among the doctors working in the government hospitals, have shown any interest in taking advantage of this measure. Why is that so?

I am also told that before a person is vaccinated, he is required to sign a document to the effect that the Ministry will not be responsible for any adverse effect that this vaccine might have. Which means to say that the Ministry is alive to the risks of adverse effects, maybe even death, and that is why it requires the persons to sign a discharge certificate before the event. Have the doctors weighed the risks involved? Would that explain why they have chosen to stay away from these two vaccines?

I think that the population must be made aware of the risks involved, precisely to enable them to take an informed decision. After all it is a matter of their health and government can do what it can and no more, but the people also must take their own responsibility. 

Lotteries and Squatters

A Second Point: (i) The gambling company that has promoted the Lotto system in Mauritius says that it is the “National Lotteries” that is responsible for the system. So far as I know, the term “national” cannot be used by a private company or organization. Unless the authorities specifically grant the private company or organization permission to use the term in its name, it will be contravening the law. I am told that the company running this gambling concern is a private company and it has no connection with the government or the “State” as such.

Unless I am mistaken, the Police or some other branch of the State should tell us whether I am right or wrong in my interpretation of the regulation or law relevant to this point. We must be informed by whom and when the permission was given to allow this gambling company to use the word “national” in its name.

I am told that this private company is not a local company, so we would also like to know how much money it has transferred to the country from where it operates. Even if foreigners are in partnership with local people, we would still like to know how much money has been transferred by those foreigners to whatever country they have thought fit. But we know that we would not be given such information because the sum of money raked by the gambling companies is kept secret.

(ii) Who can sign documents on behalf of the government or of a ministry? I mean a document that is legally binding, that will be acceptable at the international level and that will not bind the minister of the day but the institution as such. That is, can a minister sign such a document and will the document be legally binding on the ministry and on the government?

I am putting this question because in the recent past, I saw two ministers signing documents with the representatives of foreign countries. A minister cannot bind either the ministry or the government; this can be done by the administrative head of the ministry. So far as I know, this has always been the case, the Minister being physically present for the signature ceremony, but the signing proper is done by the Permanent Secretary or the some other head of the administration.

Maybe the procedure has been amended whereby the Ministers can sign documents that will bind the government or individual ministries. If such has been the case, the public should have been informed about this change in procedure.

(III) At times ministers talk too much and it happens sometimes that they do realize that what they had uttered is utter nonsense. They think they have powers which are in effect exercised by others. Everyone must do his duty et les vaches seront bien gardées.

I am talking about Minister S. Soodhun. I agree he does not know much but he should start learning about the very basic elements of what are beyond his powers. A Minister is not all that powerful, even in his own ministry, this he must understand.

(iv) Just a few words about politics. There is not much to write about unfortunately, except that government is doing its job quietly and generally the opposition has nothing of importance to say. I get the impression that it is tacitly supporting the government, and this makes me wonder whether there is some sort of understanding between the government and the opposition. Of course this will be denied by the government as well as by the opposition.

Now that I remember, some members of the opposition have been saying that government should have conducted an enquiry before getting the squatters’ houses constructed on State Lands demolished. What would have been the purpose? To say that some persons have the right to be squatters?

If this is all that the opposition can come up with, then I am sorry for the MMM. Election fatigue should have left the members of the opposition by now and they should have been in a better shape to lead the opposition. 

Tumeric: Liberalise the market 

A Third Point: People of Indian origin have always used haldi or curcuma or turmeric as it is called in English or safran in Creole, from time immemorial, at least for the past 7000 years or more, either as a spice in massala or as a cosmetic or as a medicine to cure a host of diseases. Above all, it is used for religious purposes and in wedding ceremonies. All Mauritians have heard of the ceremony prior to the wedding normally called the “Haldi ceremony”. The name of the ceremony is derived from the plant.

I was recently reading a book on Ayurvedic medicine, which argues that the only remedy for cancer is haldi. I believe in Ayurvedic medicine and I personally tend to accept what is written in the ancient authoritative books and what I read comes from such a book. I am not saying that people should take it at face value; they should consult the Ayurvedic specialists, the real Ayurvedic practitioners.

By the way, Swami Ramdev, the master exponent of Yoga, says that he has cured patients suffering from cancer. People interested should get in touch with him in his Ashram in Haridwar. Doctors versed in the western type of medicine say that there is no cure for cancer but they can only prolong the life of the patient for a few months. This is all they can do.

I have read in the papers that the price of Haldi has recently gone up by five times. Why, should we ask? The answer should be either the crops have drastically failed or consumption has gone up. Maybe a combination of both has contributed for the price rise. More people are using this plant for their needs but at the same time the same time its cultivation has gone down.

I am informed that nobody can import turmeric, that the importation is done only by the Agricultural Marketing Board. I think that this does not make sense. If private importers can give better satisfaction to the consumers, why should they be prevented from doing just that? I know that without competition, the sole supplier of any product can impose any condition for the sale of the product; it can even make a huge profit. Is this what the Agricultural Marketing Board is doing at the moment?

And this applies to other commodities in which the Agricultural Marketing Board deals; there are some other products for which it holds a monopoly. The AMB should be able to compete with the private sector on an equal footing, if it cannot, it will have to be closed down in the interest of the consumers.

Can the AMB respond to the points raised? We are waiting for their response?

To end on this point. I do not know who imports the Amul brand of milk. It is the best milk that I have used, and so also my friends. Quite a few months ago, a small consignment was put on sale in a supermarket. Within an hour, the whole consignment was sold out. Those who had the chance bought two dozen bottles or more.

The importer should not be concerned with those who are against anything and everything Indian, and this includes Amul milk and Amul Butter. We know who they are and where they are lurking and we also know for which groups they are working. For what gains, I do not know, but they are bent on promoting the interests of their masters. Those people should know that India is the largest producer of milk in the world, that the milk and milk culture goes back thousands of years. Can I request the importer to henceforth start importing Amul milk on a regular basis? 

Road congestion: The people are fed up! 

A Fourth Point: It is high time for the government to take a final decision on whether we need a bus lane or a light railway system for the conveyance of passengers between Curepipe and Port Louis. People are fed up with the dilly dally of successive governments regarding this matter, and they want results.

What are the passengers expecting and waiting for? First of all, and this is the most important matter they will consider, what is the price of a one-way ticket between Curepipe and Port Louis by the improved bus route on the one hand and on the light rail system on the other.

People must be informed right from the initial stages what they will have to pay to go to Port Louis, otherwise government will have to pay a very heavy political price for taking a decision behind the back of the passengers.

All information must be made public and let the public be a part of the deciding process, at least on the type of transport they prefer for the price they will pay for a ticket.

The opposition is just waiting to pounce on the Minister responsible for the project at the slightest expression of discontent from the ranks of the electorate. Besides, we know that the MMM cannot stand the political presence of Anil Baichoo. He did not play the game of Paul Bérenger in following him to the MMM. Remember the episode of “intellectuellement limité”? 

* Published in print edition on 6 August 2010

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