The Rise of Modern Mass Diseases and Epidemics:
A Challenge to Health Care Policy
Usually the Western perspective in health care provision is to cure people, once they fall sick or get injured. There have been great achievements in the past, with regard to treatment of disease and extension of health care services to the general public; though public-to-private ratios in health care provision vary a great deal across industrialized countries of the West and the East.
In the following, I would like to raise a two-fold problem: first, how to prevent modern mass diseases and epidemics, such as, heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, Aids/HIV, and e.g. SARS and, second, how to possible strike a win-win solution with regard to personal and public responsibility for preventing and taking care of health-care needs.
With regard to the first part of the problem, the prevention of new mass diseases and epidemics, new research in the West with regard to the long-term effects of life-style and consumption choices is booming and, largely, draws from age-old knowledge and experience of Eastern traditional medicine. Cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes are all linked to chronic inflammation, the body's first defense against infection. Sometimes the problem is genetic predisposition, sometimes it is high blood pressure that keeps the process of inflammation going endlessly.
The subsequent heat fosters the proliferation of abnormal cells and facilitates their transformation into cancer cells. Chronic inflammation also destabilizes cholesterol deposits in the coronary arteries, leading to heart attacks and potentially even strokes. It chews up nerve cells in the brains of people that suffer from Alzheimer's disease. Inflammation is also thought to curb the use of insulin and hence contributes to the development of diabetes. The list of diseases that are linked to light, but chronic inflammation is getting longer and longer.
The prevention of inflammation, hence, deserves our special attention. Experts suggest (1) to exercise daily, (2) to change the diet (low fat diet, plus a lot of colorful fruits and vegetables), (3) foster oral hygiene (flossing and brushing regularly, as gum disease is also a source of chronic inflammation), and (4) certain drugs such as Aspirin, Statins, and Beta Blockers and ACE inhibitors. It is vital for the interest of current and future generations of especially elderly people to change and formulate national health care strategies today -- to prevent (1) avoidable pains and loss of human lives of millions of elderly and middle-aged people, and (2) a financial crash of the one or other publicly-financed health care system in the years and decades to come.
Vegetables, fruits, exercise, floss, and drugs like Aspirin -- if these are key solutions to the most striking health care problems of current and future generations, why not set up national health care policies that inform, education, and promote e.g. healthy lifestyles, a healthy diet, and oral hygiene?
It is the responsibility of the government to make aware its citizens of these, truly fatal, health hazards, and the simple cures that are available to their underlying causes-such as in the case of chronic inflammation, which is indeed one of the worst mass killers in the recent history of humankind.
In addition, it will be vital to find solutions to problems related to public hygiene, to prevent the transmission of communicable diseases from animals to humans, and to stop inter-human transmissions. Diseases like SARS and Aids/HIV are primarily sought to be solved by way of finding a medical cure; these drugs are often associated with heavy side effects, they are often only capable of either delaying or diminishing the risk of death, and they by and large cost an enormous amount of money.
So why not focus also more on the prevention of viruses and other communicable diseases from animals to humans, and from human to humans altogether?
Governments need to be firm on both, the prevention and the cure/treatment of diseases. National health strategies needs to be developed that not only look at current health problems, but also the long-run developments of diseases, like AIDS/HIV, and massive outbreaks of short-term epidemics, such as bird flu.
Last but not least, national health strategies should not regard modern mass diseases as some sort of "natural" stage of live we all need to live through and cope with (either with, or without the help of government's resources) -- but, on the contrary, as by and large very avoidable diseases.
New knowledge that is available today should urge national-policy makers to set up national action plans. Such national action plans would include education on the subject in schools, on the workplace, and in the media.
For finding true win-win solutions, national health strategies need to change existing incentive structures that grow out of the system of public health-care financing, regulation, and provision, so that new incentives lead to changes in individual, as well as institutional behavior -- to, once and for all, put an end to the plague of avoidable, modern mass diseases.
by Christian Aspalter
Gorman, Christine and Park, Alice (2004), The Fires Within, Time, March 1.