It goes without saying that the mess our world is in right now is one of our own making. We all knew this would happen one day and there have been a plethora of data-backed warning interventions, like the one Bill Gates brilliantly pitched in at TED in 2015. Yet, with very few exceptions, near to zero effort has been made globally to effectively mitigate this risk. What. A. Shame!
Although I am a Medical Doctor, I am not one of the millions of self-proclaimed internet virology experts, or other COVID-19 nut-cases — I’d like to focus on verified, available evidence, and try to figure out some lessons we can all learn in the face of this global uncertainty. If air travel has become this safe today, it is mainly due to the fact the industry has effectively implemented the lessons learned from blackboxes and crash investigations.
I’m henceforth leaving a blackbox here, so maybe one day, our kids will avoid making the same mistakes. So far, in this current saga, only very few nations like Singapore and Hong Kong have effectively implemented their lessons-learned from the previous SARS wave that hit them. But as the global health system has crashed on us everywhere else today, I would like to offer five elements of reflection and a question for discussion and future reference:
A- Five Lessons:
Lesson #1: Despite the distances separating countries and continents, we remain heavily interdependent. However, the balance between the individualism of certain nations and common international good is increasingly tipping toward the former. As Prakash Sethi put it so beautifully in his 2003 book: ‘The economic and sociopolitical problems of the twenty-first century will be largely connected with the interdependent nature of the world and its people, a world in which individual goodwill is not possible without thought for the common good’.
Lesson #2: The Public Health interests of Nations are NOT mutually exclusive. In fact, in the face of public health threats, the health interests of one nation shall be aligned with that of all other nations. By effectively mitigating these risks for their populations, Nations are by default protecting one-another too. The WHO guidelines in this regard have always been quite comprehensive and clear. A few nations implemented them. Many ignored them. Some are still pointing fingers.
Lesson #3: In the case of an epidemic, our whole human race is as protected as our dumbest proxy (including so-called ‘political leaders’). Therefore, the consumption of medical information should be factual, not emotional: stick to verified health experts’ facts, not politicians’ blabber or your next of kin’s stupid post. In times of a public healthcare crisis, only read and listen to the official experts recommendations through their official channels. Learning this lesson or not is a matter of life and death.
As the internet has unfortunately become a garbage bin of ignorant content, the sources replicating that garbage have become contaminated. For the record: social media are not official sources of information until you check on the authenticity of the real source of publication. Unfortunately, through these channels, ignorance is spreading as fast at the virus itself, and you don’t want to take any advice based on ignorant people’s opinions either, because it makes you ignorant yourself.
There’s a reason why medicine is a science where uninformed individual opinions have no place. If you struggle to get access to reliable evidence-based sources of information, I’m suggesting some for you at the end of this article.
Lesson #4: The tax imposed on the global economic activities by a globally very poor health disaster preparedness is quite high. As we can observe, the wealth of nations is linear to the health of their populations. Adding insult to injury, the next silent healthcare killer wave is already hitting the shores via obesity and smoking and there’s a very little window to act. Back in 2015, I have published a paper on this topic urging responsible governments for action.
If we ignore this crucial relationship between population health and economy, and do not urgently capitalise on the visit our microscopic ‘Corona’ Nemesis to drive sweeping societal changes, then why bother about the climate altogether?
Lesson #5: Short-termism kills: A message to all apprentice politicians out there: long-term planning means a plan that spans longer than one electoral cycle, and in public healthcare, these plans are altruistic by nature. Both concepts of altruism and long-termism are something most politicians are paid to not understand.
Also, unlike building new hospitals for the communities, preventive medicine policies are not as sexy because laymen are unable to appreciate them at face value. But now, look back! If they were implemented, don’t you think those policies might have saved more lives and economies than all hospital beds and medical resources the world is unable to mobilise right now?
B- The Big Question:
In the past 2 weeks I have been approached by at least three instances to help put together an effective track-and-trace software solution to tackle the current pandemic problem in a more timely fashion. The common denominator of these solutions is a question to all of us: How much private information are we individually willing to make public, for the sake of enhancing public health and safety?
All your contact details, your last location and related time stamp, the identity of people you had physical contact with in that particular location, etc. — There’s no silver-lining, and there lies the whole complexity of public healthcare and safety.
Finally, as promised, here are some free evidence-based and regularly updated scientific resources on COVID-19:
These are THE references and fact-checkpoints for 99% of the stuff you read out there on COVID-19. If the information you read or heard is not in one of these links, then it’s likely to be fake and it’s your responsibility to help redress it.
Learn. Stay Safe. Educate.
Socio Director en SEHA