Arthur Silber points out the dangers of govt censorship as it applies to the Chinese SARS outbreak here. In the comments someone points to SDB here about an interesting and IMO plausible theory about China as the incubator of influenza.
My two cents is for an article in NRO I almost blogged a couple of weeks ago when it first came out:
Not very long ago — within the past five years, let's say — an American businessman of my acquaintance, a leading figure in the health-care field, was approached by an authoritative official of the Chinese government with a truly fabulous offer. How would the American like to set up a nationwide network of clinics, under his own name and with clear American identification? He would provide the medicine, the staff, the doctors, the technology. The Chinese would provide the money, the land, the labor force to build the clinics, and guarantee a substantial profit for at least a decade.From which Ledeen suggests:
The American was impressed; who wouldn't be? And of course he was curious. Why were they being so generous?
The answer helps understand why it took so long for the Chinese to fess up to the existence of the new Viral pneumonia. The Chinese official put it this way: "we are having a terrible time getting people to see doctors, even for routine physical checkups. And this is because of an event that took place back in the late 1940s, following Mao's revolution. At that time, the government promised to eradicate venereal disease in China. And it did. Everyone was forced to undergo an examination by a certified doctor. And anyone with venereal disease was executed. Ever since, most Chinese stayed far away from medical doctors."
So the current regime, which would like to improve the health of the population, thought that it might be possible to get the people to a doctor if that doctor were clearly separate from the government. Indeed, as far removed from Chinese officialdom as one could imagine: an American doctor in an American clinic that guaranteed utter privacy.
I'm not so sure that the authorities were keeping the information from the people. It may well be that the people were keeping it from the authorities.I for one have a hard time seeing our govt ever doing anything as radical as Mao's Chinese allegedly did. But I notice that a lot of people who push govt involvement in health care seem to have issues with John Ashcroft. Alright liberals - would you like Ashcroft or any other terrifying "Christian right-wingers" to have access to your health care records?
Then again, what is to be done to control epidemics? Should we apply the same standards we did with AIDS, in which the risk of stigmatizing people was given more weight than concerns for general public health?