War on hypocrisy

Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
MY VIEW - The Sun Daily
February 4, 2015

T is not the first time that the World Health Organisation (WHO) is under fire in the wake of new and unexpected infectious diseases. Some five years ago, when an unknown flu struck, the world was caught unaware. I was in Mexico attending a conference when it happened. We were thrown into chaos and anxiety as people reportedly died like flies due to an "unknown" cause. We were at the airport then about to leave the country but no one was sure. We boarded then disembarked, and boarded again, creating even more anxiety and chaos. Face-masks were generously issued but to no avail.

Meanwhile, wide-bodied airplanes arrived from Europe evacuating the Europe-bound passengers. The rest were left in despair as the news of the number of deaths increased; still the cause was elusive. Almost everyone was wearing face masks, but many questions remained unanswered. Was it enough of a protection? Was it even appropriate? When revealed that a virus of sorts was implicated, the face mask was no more than a farce. More anxiety and despair. Captive in an airport and later an airplane made everyone the perfect victim. Like a time bomb, it could self-destruct any time, the face masks were of no consequence. On the contrary, the Europe-bound flight seemed dangerous as it could cause the unconfirmed disease to spread. Unlike in the movies, the promises of advanced technologies often dubbed as the "panacea" to the world's worst ailments turned out to be no more than a lie.

We seem to forget that germs and viruses are constantly adapting and testing even the best technology there is. They ambush when we least suspect. This time it was the triumph of the H1N1.

All these happened in a matter of hours. As we finally flew out, no one could imagine what would happen to the locals who were "trapped" in the precarious locale. A state of emergency was eventually declared in Mexico.

So when Ebola sprang a surprise recently, the situation could not have been any better. Indeed, it was worst off given the more fragile environment and situation in the West African region. It would be no wonder if WHO was accused as napping yet again! Agency chief, Dr Margaret Chan, conceded the tardy and shoddy responses to the epidemic. Making this worst was what Chan attributed to as the resistance to antimicrobial medicines worldwide with "the end of modern medicines as we know it" as a possible outcome!

She highlighted: "This was West Africa's first experience with the virus and it delivered some horrific shocks and surprises."

What was more shocking was the following announcement made by Oxfam, alleging that the world's wealth was further amassed in the hands of fewer people. By 2016, when the top 1% of the world's population come to control nearly half of the global assets, the horrific shocks and surprises that Chan alluded to will be the new norm. It means many more poor people will be exposed to serious vulnerabilities due to the worsening financial disparities.

Yet millions upon millions of dollars are poured endlessly for wars to contain "enemies" that they care to imagine whereas the real wars against poverty, disenfranchisement, and widening social injustice are left to mere lip service. What hypocrisy! Of late, the so-called "war on terror" is increasingly exposed to be yet another hypocrisy mounted by the coalitions of hypocrites bent on double standard. The latest evidence is when leaders of diverse hues and places locked arms in full public view to protest the carnage in Paris notwithstanding that their own cupboards back home are filled with skeletons. Not counting the number of innocent victims of sheer poverty and social injustice caught in the web of corrupt and inhuman systems, both in the East and West, never mind if they screamed liberte, fraternite, egalite!

According to Chan, the world was "too slow to see what was unfolding before us". In a world of interconnecting complexities, this clearly is not entirely a health concern. Instead it intertwines with other sectors, especially those impacting the socio-cultural and politico-economic divides within a broad ethical framework for humanity. It therefore demands that we must be honest enough to engage the future as it unfolds and not wallow in dishonest double speak. Hence, as Chan vowed "never again should the world be caught by surprise, unprepared", she also needs to ensure that the world is not choked by its own hypocritical empty promises. Unless the "war on hypocrisy" and double standard is clearly won and soon, the world situation will continue to worsen on all fronts.

With some four decades of experience in education locally and internationally, the writer believes that "another world is possible".
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