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Monday, April 14, 2003

Unsung warriors: War on another front

We have been subjected to a spectacular display of extravagant propoganda in the last few weeks - stories of brave soldiers fighting the war for their respective regimes, innocent citizens paying with their lives, journalists braving the depths of war to present us with their perspective (and in some cases the perspective of their regimes). A sacrilegious, disgusting and disgraceful reality show brought to our living room, a show where there are no winners - only the dead and the survivors bearing the scars of the war forever.

On a daily basis, from the frontlines in Iraq, we hear a Tom sending his love to his mom in Dallas, Texas or a Jane sending her love to her children in Los Angeles, California. But not once did we hear a certain Carlo Urbani send his love to his 3 children. To be more specific, Dr. Carlo Urbani, president of the Italian branch of Medecins sans Frontieres(Doctors without Borders). Nor did we hear of Dr. Ong Hok Su. Or any of the hundreds of people in white, who are putting their lives at risk to detect, isolate and destroy a contagious virus/bacteria going by the name SARS, first diagnosed by Dr. Urbani.

Was their mission any less critical than that of Tom or Jane? Any less dangerous? At least Tom and Jane only had a probable risk of exposure to some bio-chemical weapon. But the doctors knew they were walking into a quagmire of viruses when they went on their mission. A mission not to raise flags atop buildings or pull down statues, but to stop a yet unknown organism from spreading its tentacles any further than it already had.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, aka SARS, lurks in the daily news feeds most often as a "have-to-mention" than a "need-to-mention" news clip. Newsreaders hastily rush through it to quickly return to the news of importance, news that provides entertainment, news of the war.

Meanwhile, fully aware of the risks, Dr. Carlo Urbani, Dr. Ong Hok Su and other doctors and nurses collected samples everyday, tended to their patients and exhaustively researched. It was a matter of time before some of them became exposed to the strain. And they did. Both Dr. Carlo Urbani and Dr. Ong Hok Su succumbed to the disease they set out to fight. No interviews. No profiles. No interviews with the mourning families or friends. No medals. They did find a mention in a couple paragraphs in an also-ran article. The silence to me was deafening and saddening.

As early as February, the disease had been somewhat controlled in the Chinese province of Guangdong. Chinese epidemiologists had identified that they had a new disease on their hands and had carried out intense studies. Research that could help the doctors now to quickly work towards a cure for the fast spreading disease. But the Chinese Government refused access to the epidemiologists and valuable time was being lost negotiating with the government. Apart from an occasional soft threat from the "powerful" governments, no pressure was exerted on this regime.

A case of lost focus and messed up priorities I guess. Here is a case of a WMD cruely weilded by the forces of nature. A serious and rapidly growing threat to the entire population. One that has to be contained with utmost urgency. A war that we must win now. The coalition that has been vociferously thundering about unfound WMD, needs to work towards neutralising the now discovered WMD. We need the support of the governments and every agency that can lend a hand. We need resources to hasten the quest for the source. Here is a desperate crying need for the fourth estate to help along in the endeavor. An informed population will definitely make the lives of the medicos much easier. There are hundreds of doctors and nurses risking their lives, millions of civilians in the crosshairs. Collateral damage is unacceptable.

I hope the deaths of the brave doctors and nurses do not go in vain. Time will tell. For now, the battle rages and the warriors relentlessly fight on.

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