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The Threat We Face against Superbugs or CREs and the Need for Good Government

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“Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria: Has the Age of Antibiotics Come to an End?”  “More formally known as CREs, these ‘superbugs’ resist most antibiotics, spread resistance to other germs and kill roughly half of the people they infect.” See PBS Newhour Frontline.

Watching Frontline last night, we watched with horror as a crisis is silently unfolding for our society. New infections caused by bacteria that have become immune to all our antibiotics are leaving doctors and our hospitals feeling helpless. There is no way of knowing how many people have already died from these superbugs, because hospitals tend to cover up the issue, which is certainly bad for their business. Thus no one is counting. Who wants to go to a hospital with one illness, only to catch an untreatable infection that will kill you? To over-exaggerate: banks have been robbing us and now hospitals are killing us.

One hospital openly presented the crisis and confessed the number of patients, who died, not from their illnesses, but from the untreatable infections they caught in the hospital. It did not seem that they ever discovered how the infections spread.

Doctors feel helpless as they try one powerful antibiotic after another and find that the bacteria have developed immunity to them all. Surgical removal of the infections was the last resort.

Two things are necessary to overcome this crisis, further development of antibiotics to overcome these lethal bacteria and better stewardship of all antibiotics, because their wasteful overuse and misuse, has made it possible for bacteria to develop immunity to them.

Turning to the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, the investigative journalist discovered that the research department that had developed antibiotics for 70 years had been closed because it was unprofitable. The CEO said it was an investment portfolio decision, because other drugs that could be used in much greater volume justified the billion dollar cost of the research and production of a drug. When an antibiotic is produced, it becomes most effective when it is used least or at least with very responsible stewardship, making the further development of antibiotics unprofitable.

What becomes completely clear from this issue is that private enterprise and the markets will not be of any help against this silent killer. What other institution of our society can be of help except the government? It alone could fund that Pfizer research facility that was closed in order to save our lives and develop the antibiotics that are a basic pillar of modern medicine. Without effective antibiotics even surgery, especially transplants, will soon become impossible and we will be dying of simple infections as in the time before the discovery of penicillin.

Government intervention is obviously necessary and a market fundamentalism is completely misguided in this case. “That government is best which governs least” is the principle we learned in elementary school. But it presupposes responsible self-government and it is obvious that our overuse and misuse of antibiotics needs regulation until we have internalized their responsible use. We do not yet know whether or not feeding antibiotics to livestock in factory farms is also part of the problem, but it seems a rather unnatural thing to do.

To just take issue with big government versus small government is inadequate, because our thinking has to become far more nuanced. Where is government completely necessary to watch out over the welfare of the public when private profit cannot be made? Secondly, where is it inappropriate, for example, in squelching a new business by means of over-regulation? The de-regulation of telephones brought about wonderful developments. I wonder about the de-regulation of the airlines. The luxury service formerly associated with them has definitely been lost. It was obvious that the de-regulation of electricity in California made it possible for the ENRON in Texas to game the system, bilking taxpayers of billions, and giving very low prices to corporations while charging private citizens $3,000 monthly electric bills. De-regulation did not work.

So let’s think about government and the private market place in a much more nuanced way. When profit is the basic principle, then we need the government as the basic principle to watch over our common welfare.

The government principle, that is, watching out for the common good should not be marginalized to give the markets free rein or an even more intensified collectivization of cost and privatization of profit will result.


Written by peterkrey

October 23, 2013 at 11:48 am

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