The pandemic will leave an imprint on our lives and if there is one thing that has been the overriding story of it is Health is Wealth. I choose this title for my blog post as it really has been one of the priorities in the last 15 months. Health and wellness are key to happiness and peace in one’s life, but there are so many factors that may pose a risk as well as a ‘lottery’ on how well we are cared and treated in the places where we live. In recent months, I have been preoccupied with worry and concern with my loved ones as the pandemic adds another level of strain on our wellbeing. Yes, we have a vaccine…but we are not there yet internationally. There are still a lot to take this country, and world, back to a pre-covid normal. Therefore, I will share with you my thoughts on some of the difficult situations that we are in at present, and some of the structural issues that affect us with our health.
This is no greater time to think of one’s health than in the last year! The pandemic has been a ‘game changer’. This year started very badly with the second wave of the pandemic in the UK, and as mentioned before, I had COVID-19 at the peak of that second wave in the middle of January. I had visited the testing centres in my local area and I didn’t need any medical attention. I did feel extreme tiredness with cold like symptoms. It was a very cold time of the year, with all that I was able to do was self-isolate mainly amusing myself by watching Netflix. I was let off lightly compared to all the sad, devastating and horrific stories on human illness and death causes by the coronavirus. The second wave with the UK variant was a real horror story that was only three months ago, as well as other variants spreading now to other regions in India and Brazil. However, it seems like there is some normalising now with the vaccine roll-out and as we get ready to open back in the summer months.
My local library has been busy giving out vaccines by appointment only, but also having days when they are open to people who turn up by a specific criterion. At one point I saw about 1000 person in the queue for the vaccine. I was sent information that my local authority have appointments for my vaccines in a couple of local venues, and I choose a local leisure centre. It was a straightforward process when I received the Astra Zeneca Vaccine and the only side effect was a sore arm for a few days afterwards. The vaccine rollout is going great in the UK because of the health systems in place, and the state’s support and programme for medical research and vaccine development – possibly putting them in the front of the queue for supplies. This has brought about discussions, and perhaps “vaccine nationalism” as it has been described and mentioned in the last few months. Vaccine nationalism seems to have been tone down a bit lately, but it really was strange to watch as you know that we are not safe unless all of us are safe! A few months ago, I couldn’t visit family in Bedford, and I currently cannot travel to the Caribbean to visit family there too especially now that Trinidad has a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths. I am looking forward to when I can visit as I haven’t seen close family and friends for four years.
Access to quality care and high standards in healthcare are basic human rights but it seems to be the luck of the draw (like a lottery) in which country you are living in, and the effective policies and duty of care that is practiced from policy makers, health providers, doctors, care staff, etc. In Britain, the NHS is praised, respected and recognised as a great health service. Obviously, there may be some minor issues but generally the standard of care and professionalism are very high. It is a privilege that we have exemplary care free at the point of access, and I have heard amazing real stories over the years. There are other countries with great health systems that have performed better in the pandemic from Cuba, South Korea, Germany to New Zealand. It has been great seeing from the very beginning countries such as Cuba helping out Italy, India sending vaccines to the Caribbean, and China is now sending the Cenopharm vaccine to Trinidad. This is the spirit of collaboration and co-operation that I prefer, rather than the vaccine nationalism that was distinctive a few months ago. There are winners and losers in the way the pandemic has impacted on countries and communities, but we really need fairer healthcare for everyone.
I do feel immense sadness at the devastating impact the variants have had in India and Brazil. However living in London, the media here has been censored with ‘mollycoddling’ of the British public. I understand that there is patient and professional sensitivity and privacy, but the UK mainstream media were quick to show dead bodies on motorbikes being transported in India! Are you telling me that it was so clean and clinical here? The balanced news reporting is non-existent considering the number of deaths in the UK. The images of global pandemic death that we have seen in other countries is likely to make me feel compassion, concern, as well as dread for this devastating virus.
However in pre-covid times, there is much talk about the impact of inequalities in access to health, much more so in a pandemic. Access to treatment, ventilators and hospital beds have been one of the major issues globally and the situation has been exacerbated by the pandemic. The United Nations has been working throughout this time as an arbiter in talking about the access to health for various countries that are not doing so well. It is also a time to reflect on the current health systems in place in not only poor countries but also the rich ones! I read that in the USA there are still issues with the access to healthcare, and perhaps vaccine distribution in communities that are marginalised. The article Equitable Enforcement of Pandemic-Related Public Health Laws: Strategies for Achieving Racial and Health Justice states that: “Early data show that the pandemic is exacerbating inequities that existed long before the pandemic began. People of color face greater social, health, and economic risks associated with COVID19. Equitable enforcement can promote racial and health justice, increase community resilience, and improve outcomes during public health emergencies and beyond”.
It seems like if you have access to health insurance in advanced economies, you may be in a position to buy your way to better healthcare. However, there is a practice of some professionals who do the basics for national health systems but expect you to pay for that enhance care in private medical care. I know this is normal practice by consultants, and perhaps they can offer that specialist service outside of the national systems, but it is usually very expensive for patients already with a crucial condition. It is ironic that a lot of health systems are also outsourced to private companies – without elaborating, it seems like health really is wealth! There have been enough healthcare contract scandals reported in the British press recently. Healthcare providers may also face issues with some staff that are low paid, lack the motivation to maintain high standards and ideals for patients in their care, especially if there is a profit making or racketeering initiative. I know that things are not perfect everywhere, but this time you really do want to remind persons that compassion and a duty of care are basic human rights.
Health care has some positive issues for us all to think about in terms of demanding higher standards, value for money, state provision of affordable healthcare, and professionals who pride themselves in good ethics and practices. This is not a new wish-list, but if you, or someone close to you is unwell – you would be expecting the basic as well as the…best care available to help with treatment and recovery. Although I had access to free health as a child covered by my parent’s work insurance, and here in the UK now – we should be demanding better for everyone…everywhere. Realistically, I know this is the way of the world but sometimes you really hope that we all win, and get better health.
Recently I have been discussing the pandemic with other information professionals and one theme for the lessons learnt is preparedness in the pandemic. It seems there are organisations who are willing to share their best practice with others to make health an universal wealth…regardless of where we are. Good leadership and policy-makers will choose to make things better by helping, supporting and working together to raise healthcare standards, by providing citizens with access to enriched healthcare advice and services with investment, accountability, programming, healthcare professionals and better designed facilities. It really doesn’t matter how advanced we are as a society – the greatest wealth is health.