From 2013 to 2014 millions of people in the US were understandably frightened about Ebola. The news coverage was almost hysterical, and people were nearly panicked that there didn’t seem to be much that we could do to fight the problem. There were only eleven cases of Ebola in the United States, and only two deaths. Ebola was horrible but to get it you had to come in contact with bodily fluids so it was fairly easy to isolate. It would be much harder if it was airborne. How ready is the United States to fight an epidemic like Ebola or a world-wide pandemic of something more serious that might be transmitted through the air? How can we improve our current system? Here in Eugene we are fortunate that our City Council passed a paid sick leave ordinance. It is totally crazy that sick people who might have contagious diseases are forced to go to work sick where they can contaminate food and spread disease. This is only the 9th jurisdiction in the country to do so. This is probably the single most efficient way to fight contagion.
Another important consideration is our health care system. Our insurance based, for profit system, still leaves 30 million people with no health care. The Republican health care system will probably leave an additional ten million without health care. What is worse is that many of those who do have health care will have health savings accounts and high deductibles, so they won’t go to a doctor till the symptoms are grave. Before they finally end up in an emergency room they may be spreading the disease to others. If any of us are vulnerable we are all vulnerable. The key to stopping an epidemic or pandemic is early detection and early treatment.
What changes should be made to our healthcare system? Currently everyone goes to a doctors office or hospital and sits in waiting rooms where they can contaminate everyone in the room. A contagious breakout could shut down major hospitals. What about requiring masks and gloves for the patients? Would it be possible to have patients stay at home if sick, and receive visits by nurses or paramedics to determine if they need to see a doctor to be isolated, or quarantined?
There are also technical advances that could be used. We now have many diagnostic tools that can be plugged into a smart phone that would allow doctors or nurses to do check ups without actually being present. Smart phones are becoming common all over the world. What would happen if everyone with a smart phone could call someone to discuss describe and take pictures of symptoms, and then the health care worker could do triage services to determine if the illness was serious and required a visit to a doctor, and were trained to recognize communicable and contagious where it would be better if the patient stayed at home and received a visit from health professionals.
We have a severe shortage of doctors, nurses and other health care workers. Many of the services provided by doctors could be done by others like the medics or paramedics that are trained by the military. Currently they don’t get any credit for that training and have to do the full nursing or doctors courses. If we had free tuition in exchange for a year or two of service in poor areas we could attract more.
Part of the problem is a lack of funding that for years has starved the Center for Disease Control, the National Institute of Health, and other drug and disease research programs. “Health care advocates fear a repeal of the Affordable Care Act could blow a $3 billion hole in state and local public health funding over the next five years and cost the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nearly $1 billion a year, or about 12 percent of its annual budget.” http://www.mcclatchydc.com/news/nation-world/national/article130600939.html#storylink=cpy
Concentrations of poor people in crowded conditions without adequate sanitation or clean water are incubators for contagious diseases. If we really want to stop global pandemics we should eliminate the conditions that create the epidemics in the first place. We should fight the diseases there before we have to fight them here. We should increase our foreign aid to help third world countries develop their sanitation, water, hospital, and education facilities.
One of the UN’s 17 sustainable Development Goals is to Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. “Significant strides have been made in increasing life expectancy and reducing some of the common killers associated with child and maternal mortality. Major progress has been made on increasing access to clean water and sanitation, reducing malaria, tuberculosis, polio and the spread of HIV/AIDS. However, many more efforts are needed to fully eradicate a wide range of diseases and address many different persistent and emerging health issues.” https://youtu.be/Fzz3Rr8fd2Q
Endemics, Epidemics and Pandemics 2:33 min. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUl87kYHT3I
How Pandemics Spread 8 min. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UG8YbNbdaco
TEDxSpotlights Pandemics. This link gives you access to dozens of TED talks about pandemics or related topics. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q_Kxa7mWbEc
Disease! Crash Course World History 203 11:36 min. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PLBmUVYYeg
How Would A Global Pandemic Really Happen? 35 min. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58ZyGFwVcHQ
Accepting the 2006 TED Prize, Dr. Larry Brilliant talks about how smallpox was eradicated from the planet, and calls for a new global system that can identify and contain pandemics before they spread. 25:46 min. https://www.ted.com/talks/larry_brilliant_wants_to_stop_pandemics