Thursday, April 30, 2009

Influenza A (H1N1) - A Background in Pandemic

Many people around the world have heard now of the outbreak of the flu, informally nicknamed the “swine flu,” or “Mexican flu,” yet which is officially designated as a strain of Influenza A virus subtype H1N1. It is actually a unique mutation, with a combination of four strains of flu, comprised of human, avian and two separate swine flu virus elements.

As of this writing, the virus is confirmed to have spread across thirteen separate nations in North America (Canada, Costa Rica, Mexico and the U.S.), South America (Peru), Europe (Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, U.K.), Asia (Israel), and the Pacific (New Zealand). Beyond that, there are suspected cases in 25 more nations spanning every continent barring Antarctica.

In response, the Mexican government has already decided to shutter a great deal of places of education and business, and has cancelled many events to minimize public contact. Individual schools in the United States have also closed due to localized outbreaks. Many other nations have taken extreme, seemingly irrational proactive measures, such as slaughtering pigs, or putting a ban on pork products, though there has been no evidence of a pig being infected by this strain of virus.

As of 30 April 2009, there have been at least 3,964 suspected cases around the world, with the vast majority (2,498) occurring in Mexico. Out of those suspected cases there have been 265 cases confirmed by laboratories a being the H1N1 strain. It has caused 168 suspected deaths and 9 confirmed deaths, with most of those deaths occurring in Mexico.

This puts the mortality of the virus, so far, between 3.4% - 4.2%.

Comparison With Other Influenza Outbreaks

Influenza outbreaks and related hospitalizations and deaths occur annually, and each flu season varies greatly. Even during mild years, influenza takes more lives on an annual basis than many other causes of death.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 5-15% of populations are generally affected. Every year worldwide, three to five million people are stricken with severe illness due to influenza, and 250,000 - 500,000 die. That equates roughly to a global mortality rate of 0.004% - 0.0075% of the total world population, and 0.02% - 0.15% for those infected with the virus.

It is sometimes not the influenza itself that kills, but the pneumonia that sets in as the body’s immune system responds. Therefore, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) commonly combines annual mortality statistics as Pneumonia/Influenza, or “P&I,” and estimates an annual death rate in the U.S. of 36,000, and hospitalizations at over 200,000. The CDC estimates between 5% - 20% of the U.S. population is affected by flu every season. Annual U.S. deaths can therefore range between 30,000 to 50,000. Which equates to an annual mortality rate between 0.01% - 0.015% of the total population, or 0.05% - 0.33% of the infected population.

Thus note that most flu outbreaks infect a large population, but are generally mostly mildly debilitating. While deaths and hospitalizations occur, they are limited to a small percentage of the affected population; with usually far less than 1% mortality rate.

In comparison, consider the avian flu outbreak of 2003-2009. It was caused by a very different strain of A(H5N1), the total number of human cases was limited to 421, but the mortality rate was very high: 257 deaths, or 61%.

The outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus in 2002-2003 also serves as a comparative example. Out of 8,273 cases reported, there were 775 deaths. This equates to a mortality rate of 9.6%.

Right now, the current rate of mortality for the A(H1N1) virus is half that of SARS, and far less than a tenth of the lethality of the avian flu outbreak.

Influenza vs. Cholera

Another comparison to give pause is that of cholera in Zimbabwe and sub-Saharan Africa over the past year. According to the U.N. Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, through 2 April 2009, in Zimbabwe alone there were 94,443 suspected cases of bacterial cholera and 4,127 deaths, for a fatality rate of 4.3%.

It has been confirmed to have spread to neighboring Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa, and Zambia. Other cases are reported across sub-Sarahan Africa: Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Nigeria, Guinea-Bissau, and Togo.

It is too early to predict the rapidity of the spread and long-term mortality rate of the present A(H1N1) virus, yet to date its mortality rate is comparable to the African cholera epidemic. However, global reaction to the cholera outbreak remains muted in comparison to the front-page news of the A(H1N1) virus.

Present and Future Considerations

Unknowns still to be determined would be why the disease has proven fatal in Mexico (and one case of a Mexican child who came to the U.S. with the infection), while other cases around the world have not proven fatal. has an article analyzing the possible impact of an influenza pandemic on the U.S. economy. Note that the actual effects of the actual present A(H1N1) influenza outbreak will vary widely from these estimates and that Health and Human Services (HHS)’s figures vary widely from those of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Related TED Talks

In 2006, Dr. Larry Brilliant talked about the eradication of small pox and polio, and how influenza pandemics occur. In his talk, he mentioned the Canadian organization GPHIN, and its role in identification of SARS. From that, with his $100,000 TED prize, he created InSTEDD, a global disease tracking organization based in Palo Alto, California.

Pulitzer-prize winner Laurie Garrett spoke at TED in 2007 about the 1918 flu pandemic, and what is different between then and now. Her words are quite illuminating towards how we can, and how we may not be able to, respond as communities and governments.

Both speakers focus on the avian flu, which is a different strain than the A(H1N1) “swine” flu. Yet the overall message and information remains relevant for knowing about how to face a global influenza outbreak.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Latest developments in Thailand

The Prime Minister has withdrawn the decree imposing emergency rule, agreed to an independent inquiry into the clashes and called for constitutional reforms to heal the deep political rift; Red shirts plan a protest in Bangkok tonight; Detained red shirt leaders have been freed on bail; Thaksin is in Liberia.

"The lifting of the decree will send a signal to the world that Thailand is back to normal," the Prime Minister said.

"We will demand Abhisit's resignation, a dissolution of the House and the scrapping of all arrest warrants against the red shirts," said Somyos Prueksakasemsuk, a leader of the pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD).

Meanwhile, police are hunting for others blamed for Thailand's worst street violence in 16 years, as well as gunmen who attempted to assassinate the leader of a royalist, pro-government group.

In the post below, you will note that forensics analysis has traced the M-16 bullets fired in the 17 April 2009 assassination attempt of Sondhi Limthongkul, to the Thai First Army’s Ninth Infantry division. Could we see the police pitted against the army? Let's not forget, Thaksin is a former policeman.

Although Thai officials revoked Thaksin's passport after the latest violence in Bangkok, he has obtained, no less than a diplomatic passport from Nicaragua. Thaksin is in Liberia on a search for investment opportunities in mining, agriculture and gas.

Where Thailand goes from here, is anyone's guess. It is hoped that cool heads prevail. Given the deep and bitter divide between the parties and the long-running history of political instability, that seems very unlikely.

All eyes will be on the streets of Bangkok tonight, to see if the Red shirts do protest and if they do, what is the reaction by the police and the army. Stay tuned.

If ever there was a need for understanding, now is the time and Thailand is the place.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thai Army Bullets Used in Sondhi Limthongkul Assassination Attempt

Royal Thai Army Connection to Assassination

Forensics analysis conducted in the past week have traced the M-16 bullets fired in the 17 April 2009 assassination attempt of Sondhi Limthongkul, founder of the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) political party, according to reports from the Associated Press. The bullets were issued to the Thai First Army’s Ninth Infantry division.

How the army’s bullets came to be appropriated and used in the assassination attempt remains unknown. Likewise there have been no arrests. Yet it casts a cloud over the role of the military in Thai politics.

Meanwhile, Sondhi is reported to be doing better and is expected to be released from the hospital on Friday.

9th Division History

The Royal Thai Army’s 9th Division was originally known as the Royal Thai Army Volunteer Force, a Vietnam War-era unit that grew from a battalion (about 700-800 men) to a division size (11,266 men) between 1966 and 1968. The unit was incorporated into the Thai Royal Army as the 9th Division after its return from Vietnam in 1971. In 1981, it was assigned to the 1st Army’s area of operations, which is centered around Bangkok. It is responsible for internal security.

In 1997, the 9th Division was named in allegations of physical abuse of refugees fleeing the instability in Burma (now Myanmar). More recently, in 2002, the 9th Division was specifically mentioned in an Amnesty International report of the forcible deportation of 63 Myanmar refugees. Problems with diplaced persons and a flood of over half-a-million migrant workers have challenged Thailand for the better part of the last decade.

The Royal Thai Army has been a decisive factor in the coups and political turnovers of recent years. It was instrumental in the 2006 coup which deposed Thaksin Shinawatra. At that time, the military supported the PAD’s goal of deposing the Thaksin government.

Even considering the assassination attempt of a major political leader, threats of additional armed attacks, and the calls for the present government to step down, the two-week state of emergency Thailand has been under will be lifted, according to current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

For now, Thailand seems to have weathered a major political crisis. Yet the political intrigues are likely far from over.

Monday, April 20, 2009

View of Geneva - Racism

After the turmoil in Thailand, I was going to look at the unrest in India and Pakistan. However, plans of mice and men oft go astray.

The controversial U.N. anti-racism conference in Geneva, Switzerland caught mine and I am sure the attention of many other people. Controversial because Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was invited to deliver a keynote speech, in which he accused the West of making "an entire nation homeless under the pretext of Jewish suffering ... in order to establish a totally racist government in occupied Palestine."

As reported by CNN

"It is all the more regrettable that a number of Western governments and the United States have committed themselves to defend those racist perpetrators of genocide," Ahmadinejad said, echoing Tehran's official line on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Many delegates at the controversial U.N. anti-racism conference in Geneva, Switzerland, cheered his words as a minority of diplomats -- mostly from Europe -- collected their papers and briefcases and left the room. Cameras at the scene showed empty seats where delegates from Britain, Spain, France, Finland and Denmark had been sitting. Israel, the US, Australia, Canada, Germany, Poland and Italy boycotted the conference by not sending any representative.


U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement criticizing Ahmadinejad for using the conference "to accuse, divide and even incite." Ban said he had spoken to the Iranian president and asked him not to focus on "divisiveness" in his address. "It is deeply regrettable that my plea to look to the future of unity was not heeded by the Iranian president," Ban said.

Perhaps Peter Gooderham, Britain's envoy to the U.N. in Geneva, said what is on the minds of many people, "The UK unreservedly condemns Iranian President Ahmadinejad's offensive and inflammatory comments. Such outrageous, anti-Semitic remarks should have no place in a U.N. anti-racism forum.

While rejecting the boycott, Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, urged reporters "not allow this one intervention to mar the conference. "I prefer to move on," she said at a news conference after Ahmadinejad's speech. She also criticized the delegates who walked out during his speech, saying his "unsavory remarks" did not "provide justification for anyone to walk out of the conference." She said that she regrets and is "shocked" by the U S decision to boycott the conference.

As reported by Associated Press

The United States understands racism well, it has been and still is an integral part of that nation’s history. Many hope that the election of the nation’s first African-American President would go a long way to bring change and tolerance.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, in its annual hate group report, "The Year in Hate" found the number of hate groups grew by 54 percent since 2000. The study identified 926 hate groups -- defined as groups with beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people -- active in 2008. That's a 4 percent jump, adding 38 more than the year before.

Don Black, a 55-year-old former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard claims the number of registered members and readers on his white nationalist Web site surged to unprecedented levels in recent months. On the day after Obama's historic election, more than 2,000 people joined his Web site, a remarkable increase from the approximately 80 new members a day he was getting, Black said. His Web site, which was started in 1995, is one of the oldest and largest hate group sites. The site received so many hits that it crashed after election results were announced. The site boasts 110,000 registered members today, Black said. "People who had been a little more complacent and kind of upset became more motivated to do something," said Black, who also said he joined his first hate group at age 15.


Hate groups cited by the law center include white nationalists as well as neo-Confederates, neo-Nazis, skinheads, Klansman and black separatists. Skinheads and Klansman saw an increase in membership, while neo-Nazi groups saw a slight decline, according to the law center's report.

Most of the hate groups are located in the South, but the state with the highest number of documented hate groups is California with 84.

Obama serves as a "visual aid" that is helping respark a sense of purpose in current supporters and lure new members, said neo-Nazi David Duke, the former Klan leader who was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in the 1980s. Duke said he fears "the white European-American" heritage will soon be destroyed. He added that his Web site sees around 40,000 unique visitors a day, up from 15,000 a day before Obama won the election.

Racist anger toward Obama was evident even before he became president. Two weeks before Obama won, authorities said they foiled a skinhead plot to assassinate him. The two suspects, based in Tennessee, also apparently planned to shoot and decapitate dozens of African-Americans, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said.

White supremacist groups have gained traction, a reversal from the decline the groups experienced since 2000, according to the law center report. One of the smaller Ku Klux Klan groups, the United Northern and Southern Knights, more than doubled its chapters, widening its geographic reach from eight to 24 states, according to the report.

The image of a black man in the White House angers white racists, who fear nonwhites gaining too much power, said Jack Glaser, associate professor of public policy at the University of California-Berkeley.

But racist fears can also be more mundane and personal: Nonwhites in the White House could lead to nonwhites in their neighborhoods, which could lead to interracial dating, a great taboo among hate groups.

"Obama poses a large cultural threat to white racists," Glaser said. "This may explain some of the uptick in hate groups."

Immigrants are another target of hate groups, according to the report. In a deteriorating economy, illegal immigrants have been blamed by hate groups for allegedly taking subprime loans, according to the report.

Scapegoating occurs most often in times of economic distress, according to experts studying hate crimes. From the Holocaust in Europe to abuses against Irish Catholic immigrants in the 1830s in the United States, people are most likely to lash out against others when they feel vulnerable or need to displace their economic frustrations on others, psychologists say.

In the city of Detroit, Michigan, where the weak economy has taken a particularly devastating toll, Jeff Schoep serves as the commander for the National Socialist Movement, one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the United States.

Schoep said he has seen membership grow by 40 percent in recent months, mostly because of the dire economic circumstances. It is the "most dramatic growth" he has seen since he joined the movement in the mid-1990s. The group does not reveal membership numbers to the media, he said.

"You have an American work force facing massive unemployment," Schoep said. "And you have presidents and politicians flinging open the borders telling them to take the few jobs left while our men are in soup kitchens."

Experts studying hate crimes say there is no reliable way to link the growing number of hate groups with an increase in hate crimes, since many of the attacks go unreported.

The FBI's uniform crime report found 7,163 hate crime incidents in 2005. However, a special report by the government that same year said the number could be 10 times higher because many of the crimes aren't reported.

The most recent FBI statistics in 2007 saw a slight uptick in hate crimes to 7,624.

Some hate groups such as the National Socialist Movement do not publicly condone violence or terrorist acts."Violence is absolutely counterproductive," said Duke, the former Louisiana legislator and neo-Nazi.

But experts say there is a link between joining a hate group and committing violent crimes. Recently in New Orleans, Louisiana, a grand jury indicted four people in the alleged shooting of a woman who tried to leave a Ku Klux Klan initiation, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported.

More commonly, members of hate groups engage in vandalism such as an incident in Los Angeles, California, this month where vandals slashed tires and sprayed the word "Nazi" on two cars and a house, according to the center. The attack occurred in a neighborhood with signs displaying support for Obama.

Dr. Alvin F. Poussaint, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who studied the issue of hate crimes, said people in hate groups can feel paranoid about a specific group of people. This panic leads them to feel threatened, and they may react with violence, he said. "Their thinking is very distorted," Poussaint said.

As posted by Arun alias Axee on

How times have changed! Black dog is not thrown out of the field!

South Africa: Circa 1893. Scene: Railway platform Pietermaritzburg railway station.

A train is halted unceremoniously, by the then white majority. A two legged Indian, “black dog” all suited and booted like an Englishman, was unceremoniously thrown out, onto the platform as he was travelling in the first class.

Travelling on business, from Durban to Johannesburg, as an educated, qualified lawyer, who was then, the first so-called “coloured” lawyer admitted to the Supreme Court, he was travelling with a valid ticket.

There he was lying, on the platform. A human being, with his pride hurt to the hilt. Prejudice towards his skin colour had showed him this day. He resolved here, that he would put an end to this evil. He did so, through sheer grit and determination, in times to come.

South Africa: April 18, 2009. Scene: Day one of the inaugural Match of IPL: Mumbai Indians versus Chennai Kings.

The match begun, Sachin Tendukar, an Indian cricketer who is recognized and respected by the world as an all time great player, is in full form and flow and in command of the situation.
Runs are flowing from his bat, despite his age.

Suddenly, the game gets held up; as a four legged “Black Dog” enters the field and holds up the play, for a good 10 minutes! A game that is being aired all over the globe, with millions of viewers glued to their TV sets, comes to a grinding halt!


The world sees a real four legged “Black Dog” holding up the proceedings. Efforts are underway quickly to get rid of the “Black Dog”! Committees designed by organizers for such exigencies, get into the act! The dog is neither lassoed nor is it thrown out! All efforts fail. Patience is not lost. TV Cameras continue to record and report.

Finally, the “four legged black dog” is respectfully removed from the scene by a white Lady, using the lure of a cookie. Not a hair of that genuine “Black Dog” was ruffled in the bargain. It was lovingly and caringly, removed, by a white human being, in a dignified manner. The commentator too ironically remarked, ‘removed through the VIP stands’ exit!’

Wow! What a change! All of us as humans, witnessed and enjoyed that change as it happened. In these past 100 plus years change has indeed, happened. Happened for the good: to the whole world. Apartheid has melted away completely.

The respect that the dog commanded, made my mind rush back to the events, in 1893 on the platform of Pietermaritzburg railway station. A comparative of life then, and life now!

Come to think of it, the commentator himself used the word “lassie” and never uttered the words “dog” or a “black dog.” The dog in question, indeed, had its day! A field day, on a billion dollar field. It never bought a ticket for this field day, and it was not thrown out!

We need understanding

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the world to rally against the threat that intolerance could rise as a result of the economic crisis, saying “the time is now” to stamp out racism. On opening the conference in Geneva, Ban said that racism including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia need to be tackled. He went on to say, “There comes a time to reaffirm our faith in fundamental human rights and the dignity and worth of us all.”

The above shows that there is a crying need for Global Understanding. As Ban said, now is the time. Let us try to live together in harmony, is the motto of the Global Understanding Institute (GUI). The Global Understanding movement was formed in 2006 and launched on Valentine's Day of that year (14 February 2006).

It was formed by a group of like-minded individuals who wish to see a peaceful world, where children can be brought up in a safe and clean environment. Where children learn the difference between right and wrong; between hate and love; war and peace; moral and immoral behaviour; honesty and dishonest intentions; legal and illegal actions; ethical and unethical activities.

We seek to share understanding of the world around us through provision of global and local forums to exchange and express views for all interested and concerned citizens of the world. We owe it to each other to communicate in a polite, logical and rational manner that takes into consideration racial, religious and political sensitivities.

We seek to foster multicultural, pluralistic communities and to create peace between neighbors. This is based on the fundamental principles of human and humanitarian rights. Our goal is to aid any interested and concerned citizen of the world to understand others, to be understood themselves especially during times of crisis or conflict, and to bring peace and reconciliation where there are differences.

GUI is now on Twitter ( where you can catch up on the real-time updates. If you would like to play a role in promoting global understanding, please contact Peter Corless at 650-906-3134 (mobile); or by email at You can also find Peter on Facebook and on LinkedIn: