DIANE PHILLIPS: It’s not COVID that’s the killer, it’s poverty


Diane Phillips

It’s no wonder we can’t wrap our heads around the COVID crisis. First of all, it came out of nowhere. One day we were all fine except for ordinary struggles; the next day we had a pandemic on our hands. So what did we do? We turned to the medical professionals. They were the experts. Only, what did they do? They brought every last ounce of their knowledge to the big imaginary table around which they all sat virtually - and they disagreed.

Just when we needed comfort, we got confusion.

It wasn’t as though some were right and some were wrong. They simply did not know the solution to dealing with an exploding virus more contagious than any that had come before it, an invisible, untouchable enemy that attacked across the board but struck vulnerable populations – the elderly and those with underlying conditions – more viciously. They were facing an economic as well as a health threat that was already outpacing wars, terrorist attacks and diseased meat in how fast it shut down economies across the globe.

If the medical community could not agree on the way forward, how were we ordinary mortals supposed to know who and what to believe or understand why we should follow one set of rules when another seemed to be working better for some, if not for all?

Basically, it broke down into two schools of thought – to follow the Swedish pattern or everyone else, including Bill Gates. Sweden, you may recall, snubbed its national nose at the very idea of locking people indoors. With an above average healthy populace, it continued to allow most of its residents to carry on almost as normal. Schools, bars, restaurants and even some gyms remained open. Only the very elderly were restricted in their movements. At first, the world’s eyes were on Sweden, wondering if they had the solution – let people get on with their lives as the virus weakened and the flow of antibodies increased, creating greater tolerance to the new strain which would eventually slow down enough that we could co-exist with it much as we do with a bad cold season.

What was happening in Sweden was called the theory of herd immunity. The coronavirus would take its natural course until our resistance to it was a good match. The thinking was that cases would decrease in severity especially among those with healthy lifestyles. The threat would remain for those who had serious underlying conditions with deaths, should they occur, triggered by blood clots or embolisms aggravated by the virus.

At the opposite end of that spectrum was the Bill Gates’ theory of saving the world from the impact of COVID-19 by finding a vaccine and ensuring every single person around the globe would have the ability to receive it.

Medical experts jumped into the ring. In one corner stood one of the greatest philanthropists and innovators the world has ever known, Bill Gates. In the opposite corner stood the naturalists, represented by a nation known to go its own way and believing the virus should be allowed to do the same and in time it would take care of itself and leave the rest of us panicked people alone.

At first it seemed like a close fight with Sweden and the herd immunity mentality gaining a slight advantage. People who were breathing Sweden’s fresh air were doing fine while those locked inside New York’s high-density urban settings were being rushed to hospitals on gurneys. But then a strange thing happened. In the last few weeks, Sweden’s numbers began to change and by early this week, the spike in cases placed it among the highest risk nations. It is important to note that according to a June 22 report in openDemocracy.com, two thirds of Sweden’s recent deaths were persons over the age of 80. Still, no one knows exactly why Sweden’s death rate began to climb but the outlier was suddenly a lot like everyone else.

The medical community was no closer to providing a unified voice. More testing, they said. More tracing. If there is one thing they have agreed on, it is this - the value of self-quarantining once testing positive.

So where do we turn on this path of seeking truth when we seem to be floundering, three or four months in, without a clear path?

Maybe there is no right or wrong answer but there is one thing we have learned and after pouring through dozens of documents and reports, it was a local doctor who told me this simple fact: “The number one determinant of poor health is not infections. It is poverty.”

How right he is. We have been saying it forever, but you know what? COVID just drove it home again. That 5lb bag of refined sugar, that reliance on processed and fast foods, the appetite for fried instead of broiled, baked or grilled, the lack of fresh vegetables in our diets, the excuses we make to not exercise are what’s killing us. COVID will diminish but until we address poverty and take our health seriously, we are only postponing death, as the good doctor said, saving the population today for more to die tomorrow.

In the end, does it matter which fighter in the ring wins? To herd or not to herd, to vaccine everyone or let nature take its course are all less important than acknowledging the need to address the real cause. Face the ugly fact. The more poverty, the more poor health we will have in The Bahamas. Change the focus, change our world. This is the quiet opportunity COVID gave us.

Have a little respect

Trying to keep a legacy alive is understandable, especially when it’s based on the life of a local hero like Sir Durward Knowles.

However, despite what the sign along the eastern Montagu shore says, Sir Durward is no longer the oldest living Olympic gold medalist and he will not be celebrating his 100th birthday on November 2, 2017.

Luckily for all of us who walked with him and in his honour to mark that milestone, he did live to be 100. But Sir Durward left us on February 24, 2018.

Perhaps the St Anne’s Constituency Committee that erected the photo plaque in his honour would be good enough to update it and add a new photo since the weather has taken its toll on the face of the beloved sailor of all sailors.

And then maybe we can get on with naming sailing the official national sport of The Bahamas.


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