Dr Javed Jamil | Clarion India
MY book, “Economics First or Health First?” was released in August last year. Interestingly, this has become a topic of debate as the Corona pandemic has unfolded throughout the world. The debate is now paving the way for an open confrontation between the dedicated class of scientists on the one hand and the political and economic forces on the other.
Recently, when Neil Ferguson, a British scientist who was part of the Government’s Advisory Board on Corona resigned for ignoring the directives on social distancing, there were reports which suggested that he was fired not due to the stated reason of his meeting his girlfriend, but because of his hard views on scientific strategies which irked the forces. Here are some excerpts from a Guardian report:
‘There is no doubt that Ferguson, who sat on the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) before his resignation, was wrong to ignore the government’s social distancing rules… But today’s lurid front-page headlines follow a campaign to discredit him by those ideologically opposed to government interventions, and who have used such tactics against scientists in other fields, particularly climate change… It is a further sign that some media commentators and politicians favour a version of Britain in which politicians and newspaper editors dictate the public understanding of biology and physics…
“Ferguson has been under attack ever since his research team’s modelling suggested in mid-March that hundreds of thousands of deaths in the UK from Covid-19 were possible if stronger efforts were not made to curb the growing epidemic… Ferguson’s contribution was initially praised, but it was not long before his reputation was under assault from parts of the media traditionally skeptical of a so-called “nanny state”…
“On 28 March, the Daily Telegraph published an article alleging that “the scientist whose calculations about the potentially devastating impact of the coronavirus directly led to the countrywide lockdown has been criticised in the past for flawed research”… The next day, Peter Hitchens, in the Mail on Sunday, described the lockdown as “mass house arrest” and identified Ferguson as being “one of those largely responsible for the original panic”.
“A few days later, the Wall Street Journal published an article by two British commentators that argued “the coronavirus pandemic has dramatically demonstrated the limits of scientific modelling to predict the future”. It singled out Ferguson’s work and complained that “reasonable people might wonder whether something made with 13-year-old, undocumented computer code should be used to justify shutting down the economy”.
“Many other scientists in the UK working on issues that have implications for government policy know what it is like to be vilified, both publicly and privately, for their findings. They are regularly attacked by many of the British media commentators who are currently joining the pile-on to Ferguson.”
The write-up concludes, “It is time to put a stop to these media lynch mobs that risk driving Britain back into the Dark Ages. We must continue to base our decisions on the advice of experts such as Ferguson and reject the irrational arguments of those who want political dogma to trump evidence.”
The Covid-19 outbreak, for some time, forced the world to think of health at the cost of economics. But soon things started changing. Trump, of course, was clear in his mind, right from the beginning. For him, the survival of market economics was dearer than the survival of Americans. He never appeared to be unduly worried about the deaths, which in a few days’ time, is expected to touch 1,00,000 mark.
In India too, things started changing. The pressure of alcohol industry was too much for the government to withstand. Liquor shops opened in most of the cities and the currency started flowing. This was of course at the huge risk of the sudden spurt in the cases, as social distancing norms were openly flouted. Other market forces were looking to how Corona pandemic can be used to benefit the healthcare industry.
As previously happened in the case of HIV/AIDS pandemic, all hullabaloos will remain only till the vaccines or treatment is found. Once the vaccines are found, there will be an attempt to sell it as much as possible and social distancing norms will die. Once treatment is found, even vaccines will be forgotten because if people do not fall ill, how will the Healthcare industry prosper
For at least some time, I felt the world is following what I suggested in the book. I had argued for keeping life and healthiness rather than economics of life in the driver’s seat in the world affairs. I had given a definition of health, which would make the System responsible for taking care of the health f the people. I would like to reproduce that definition and its effects from the book. I gave the following definition of health:
“Health is a state of complete physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being, which has to be preserved not only through health protective and promoting regime at personal level but also through the development of a health protective and promoting family system and a health protective and promoting social system.”
The addition to the phrase “which has to be preserved not only through health protective and promoting regime at personal level but also through the development of a health protective and promoting family system and a health protective and promoting social system” puts a huge onus on the whole world system. It throws a serious challenge to the dominance of the economic fundamentalism led by the market forces.
The system will herald a new revolution, intellectual as well as social, aimed at the alleviation of the sufferings of man as individual, as member of a family and as a member of society. It makes the establishment of “a health protective and promoting family system” and “a health protective and promoting social system” imperative for every national and international institution. It puts the burden of providing the policy guidelines for the socio-economic development on the medical fraternity.
The new system won’t remain a silent spectator to the harms done to health but becomes the most powerful player in the affairs of the world. By safeguarding itself, it safeguards the lives, ensure peace and harmony for all. The interests of health can never be sidetracked in ordinary conditions.