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Article by Lindsey Collen: The Chikungunya Epidemic & Tourism. In Praise of Truth


The article below written by Lalit member, Lindsey Collen, was published in Le Mauricien Wednesday, 19 April.

We live in times of lies. Blatant lies. Anyone can call Tony Blair a liar. Or Bush or even Colin Powell for that matter. They know they are liars, the public knows they are liars, and they know we know that they are liars. Yet they lie. Plus they stay in office.

But lies are always a "handmaiden" offense. They're "servants" in the employment of some other deeper offense that they mark and mask. Usually theft. In extreme cases, lies hide very serious crimes, even war crimes. But also they often mask various forms of social behavior the doers themselves find shameful, things ranging from sexual encounters to drug-use. But all lies, whatever they hide, always hide some other offense. Which is why we have to challenge them. We must expose liars because they do harm, in themselves, by destroying trust, and also because we must find out what specific other offense the liars are masking, at least so that we know its degree of gravity.

Bush, Blair and Colin Powell told lies so that they could invade Iraq. Their lies cover for what, without the lies, is war crime. And, in this case, there is another layer. Why the war crimes? Behind empires lies theft.

So, as Ray Charles' mother puts it so aptly in the film Ray "Scratch a liar, find a thief".

 * * *

Why would the authorities want to lie about how much Chikungunya there is? Well everyone knows the answer: the tourist industry is sensitive to epidemics. Who wants to come to paradise at the price of a few weeks of hellish joint pains afterwards? So, why not hide the Chikungunya instead. Deny it. Sell the tourist packages for profit and without reference to the illness. Why not lie.

Scratch a liar, find a thief.

So, the authorities lie on behalf of the hotel industry. MBC tells us that the epidemic is decreasing just when we all know it is spreading faster. All of us see it in our workplace. Children see the spread in their class. We all see it in our extended families. Then the Ministry seems to give orders to no longer diagnose Chikungunya. It can, incidentally, be diagnosed by a test or by clinically observed symptoms. The Ministry then announces that there is another illness just like Chikungunya going around, but that it isn't Chikungunya. This illness, unlike Chikungunya, floats about in the air of its own accord. It is not mosquito-born.

They tell us all this as if we were half-wits. As if people don't know the broad but mostly clear difference between influenza and Chikungunya.

But the lies work. They work not because we are half-wits, but because we all share in the desire not to make the tourist industry collapse. We collude. We want to believe the lies. We don't want our friends to lose jobs in yet another sector.

But, the effects of this opportunism and of these lies on the part of the authorities may turn out to be what causes the catastrophe. Ironically, the first victim of the catastrophic effects of lying-for-profit will be the tourist industry, itself. Nothing makes an epidemic spread faster than hiding it. The famous Luchino Visconti classic Death in Venice was set in a tourist-dependent Venice where the authorities had to hide the very epidemic that could only be combated by exposing it.

We have all noticed that more and more people are now spreading the rumour that Chikungunya hasn't got anything to do with mosquitoes. You hear it justified by all sorts of intellectual acrobatics: Minister Dulloo, standing on TV announced that there had been so much fogging and cleaning-up done in his constituency that there were no mosquitoes left. Therefore there is no Chikungunya. But the fever, the rash, joint pains and swelling cannot be willed away as easily as that. There they are in Poudre d'Or and Grande Baie. In front of our eyes. A neighbour, a family member, a friend is in bed with Chikungunya. So, then we must believe that Chikungunya isn't spread by mosquitoes. As if Mr. Dulloo or anyone else in the universe thought you could eliminate mosquitoes in so short a span of time, with so superficial a mobilization.

Others pronounce, "If it's an epidemic, it cannot be spread by mosquitoes". Their assumed definition of "epidemic" is what's faulty. Yet others say "Mosquitoes don't bite me. I got Chikungunya. Therefore it is not spread by mosquitoes." This error presumably based on the fact that many of us have no reaction to mosquito bites, neither an itch nor redness, and we've made this statement "Mosquitoes don't bite me" throughout our lives and don't intend to be dispossessed of it that easily. Someone even told me, though I don't follow the logic: "Five out of five people in a family related to me have all got it. Therefore it cannot be Chikungunya". A non sequitur. Or a barmy idea that the mosquito could run out of its supply of virus after say two people in one family.

Curiously, in Reunion these rumours were spreading like wildfire about two months before we ever heard them in Mauritius. The colonial authorities obviously did not have the credibility to convince people what the illness was. People insisted it was just in the air.

Now, it seems the authorities here haven't got sufficient credibility either.

And for all of us in the public, how much easier it is for us to believe it is not a preventable epidemic? How much easier for us not to have to go out, find and eliminate mosquito breeding grounds? Haven't we got enough troubles as it is? Without having to go out and put kerosene into old tyres?

But, if we don't continue to mobilize fully and fight mosquitoes, in particular their breeding grounds, stagnant water in which each female lays 400 eggs at a go, there will be a massive epidemic of Chikungunya, and the tourist industry will suffer very badly. Because a fully-fledged epidemic will no longer be "hideable". As it was no longer possible to hide in Reunion, where the tourist industry has actually collapsed.

About the deaths, there is clear manipulation now in Mauritius. Someone dies. He has Chikungunya. They put his death down to encephalitis. But in Reunion they have found a link between the two. Three people who they say take drugs die. They all have Chikungunya. They put their death down to hepatitis. But in Reunion they have found a link between these two, too. If the figures for AIDS were kept in this way, no one would die of AIDS. You only die of AIDS-related infections. And in the end we would all of us no matter how we die, be able to have as cause of death that our heart stopped beating. The death statistics must be kept in the same way as for all illnesses. The reason for recording "cause of death" is to follow epidemics so that they can be controlled.

And there is other collateral damage.

Firstly, now that the Minister has announced that Chikungunya has more or less disappeared, is he telling the few unscrupulous private doctors to go ahead and inject their stock of 24,000 cortisone injections into unsuspecting patients with fever and atrocious joint pains? Thus perhaps putting their lives in danger. Cortisone suppresses the natural defense mechanism of the body against things like viruses.

Secondly, the authorities lose the little authority they had. If the Government hides the figures, which it clearly is doing, surely, people will think, it is not reliable on the causes of Chikungunya either?

And here is the danger.

The "epidemic of rumours" about Chikungunya is perhaps more dangerous than the epidemic of Chikungunya itself.

Especially when science and the pharmaceutical industry are these days heavily discredited. Research is controlled by Governments and Universities no more. It is run by private, profit-makers. And they are the biggest "liars" to cover being the biggest "thieves" in the whole world. They sell everything. And they sell almost everything on false pretences. This product makes you more popular and this one makes you younger. That brand name makes children cleverer. That one makes them healthier. Talk about superstition.

Even the control of the United Nations system, even the World Health Organization, is gradually being taken over by private multi-national firms. Which may explain the hideously dangerous line taken by the WHO chief who came to Mauritius and began the infernal process of demobilizing people. Announcing that the epidemic had been "exaggerated". One wouldn't wish it on anyone, but maybe he just doesn't know what he's talking about. Anyway, all the Ministers quote him endlessly in their campaign of denial. In their campaign of hiding the figures. In their campaign of pretending there's another Chikungunya, which isn't Chikungunya. And which isn't spread by mosquitoes.

And thus demobilizing people and exposing the country to a truly massive epidemic. While exposing the very industry it was trying to protect, the tourist industry.

Lies are always dangerous. We need to get to the bottom of them.

Lindsey Collen, Lalit member 16 April, 2006