There is something about modern capitalist society that makes some, especially in the middle classes, unable to see what public health measures do for their lives – even for their own lives. This is probably because public health measures, in fact, accomplish something so fantastic and so life-giving for everyone in society – rich and poor alike – that the measures tend to become invisible. The middle classes only sit up and take note of what is a “relative advantage” for themselves, personally. This is the ideology that capitalism bottle-feeds the middle classes on, with a trickle-down effect into the working class: “You, too, can rise in society if you accomplish this, and thus you can come to hold power over others, thus live a good life.” This is capitalism’s constant promise. It thus promises inequality. At best it promises that the “inequality” it constantly promotes will, in the distant future, be “justified” by pure “meritocracy” – which would mean, for a start, abolishing feudal inheritance laws and then introducing a mythical “examination” that would measure the “merit” that justified which people get to get the power.
By contrast with capitalism’s promise of inequality, public health measures have a totally different promise: “We can all benefit from this course of action and it can be explained why.” Public health measures, interestingly, exist even under capitalism. They exists despite capitalist ideology. They are a beacon to a future where capitalism gets abolished, like slavery was, for the cruelty, wars, pillage and inequality it engenders. The ideology capitalism is based on – greed and cut-throat competition – and its repressive state that maintains the inequality, would no longer be justifiable or necessary post-capitalism.
Examples of public health successes, invisible to many in the middle classes:
1. Safe sewerage disposal gives us “life” by preventing the spread of disease. True for rich and poor.
2. Safe running water gives “life” for the same reasons. Also true for rich and poor. As I write, we all mobilize in Ragoo Lane to get water from a CWA-contractor through a big hose – no running water yet.
3. Free school milk ended the suffering and death by tuberculosis in England. This was a “life-giving” advantage for an entire working class.
4. Fluoridation of water prevents tooth decay for all people, starting with children, making for a good “life”.
5. Vaccines end suffering and death from small pox, and amongst children, from polio, plus from a number of other illnesses – measles, mumps, rubella, kinds of pneumonia and flu, tetanus, typhoid, hepatitis, yellow fever – and bring “life”. And now there are Covid vaccines to prevent suffering and death, particularly important because this virus, unlike others, attacks the old and the chronically ill, that civilized society protect.
6. Government employees who dig the edges of canals and sweep away wet leaves helped the broad masses in, say, Mauritius, to eliminate the anopheles mosquito, which was responsible for malaria, which at its height caused one-third of all deaths, not to mention endless suffering. Imagine the contribution to “life”.
7. In epidemics like Covid-19, public health measures include a number of temporary actions: closing off areas where there is illness (closing borders, or isolating regions, or towns, or neighbourhoods or hospital wards, or whole hospitals) from areas where there is no illness, and from where there “may be” illness; universal wearing of masks; keeping a sufficient distance when in public spaces from others; keeping windows open; washing hands often. When we all do this during an epidemic, we provide “life” for all in society and do not treat some people as dispensable. We also prevent the nurses, doctors, orderlies, cleaners, all hospital staff, from bearing the brunt of an epidemic that tends, the minute public health measures are relaxed, to overwhelm hospitals – as we have witnessed in the most technologically advanced countries. Not following public health measures means death to many. In the USA, the most developed country in the world, nearly half-a-million deaths were preventable, preventable by a little bit of co-operation and a good deal of human decency and respect for “life”. The Trump regime prevented this from evolving there.
Because we have not contained the second wave of Covid in Mauritius by Authorities not getting public health measures convincingly explained, and by giving in to the minority that opposes masks, border closures, lockdowns, quarantines, even vaccines – have caused a great deal of suffering and even deaths. The first 10 deaths were not easy to prevent. Everything was new in the first wave. Now, illness and deaths are preventable.
Anyway, yesterday’s Covid Briefing was much improved. For a start, there were two experienced doctors from the universal, free medical services on the panel, Dr. Ip and Dr. Lam. What they said was spot-on – both professional and heart-felt. Their presence created the scientific atmosphere that made the two MSM representatives, both medical doctors, Minister Jagutpal and Dr. Joomaye, tend to intervene rather better than before. The hospital doctors explained that Covid getting into a dialysis unit is their worst nightmare because of the fragility of the patients and the difficulty of prevention. Dialysis staff and patients spend hours together in close contact, by definition, three times a week, and patients travel together, there and back, again with staff. The death rate once Covid spreads to dialysis patients is so high world-wide that Dr. Ip could not bring himself to say it. I will force myself: 20 – 35%.
Anyway, what else did we learn?
1. There was and still is “vaccine hesitancy” amongst both dialysis patients and hospital staff. Even now, after all this, only 815 of 1,530 patients have come forward, it seems. 700 or so still hesitate. 60% of hospital staff in the country have finally taken up vaccination, which means as many as 40% have not. It was mentioned by someone on the panel that in Italy, vaccination is now compulsory. Hospital staff either get vaccinated or suspended without pay for a year or until the epidemic is contained.
2. In all 42 dialysis patients at Souillac out of a total of 89 became Covid Positive. Nine patients of the 42 have since died. Seven were positive and two were negative, but in quarantine. The risks to the fragile become clear as we take in all this. Any let up in public health and we inflict pain, separation from loved ones, and death.
3. To get an idea of the fragility of people in dialysis, last year without Covid, Dr. Lam said, 512 patients died during the year (figure includes other sudden renal failures) out of a total of 1,532 dialysis patients. Without Covid, according to the University of California San Francisco, “35% of hemodialysis patients remain alive after five years of treatment.” That is a reality check! Some young people, though, do live normal lives for decades.
Second novelty, yesterday was the first live Government Covid press briefing. It was on Zoom, with some teething problems of a technical nature. Being live means it was nearly all in Kreol, which was good – the two hospital doctors setting the standard for excellent Kreol. A couple of journalists persisted in avoiding speaking the language of the people pa kone kifer. The questions from journalists will, in future, need to be much better prepared. They need to be what the public, in general, wants to know – and not be some personal axe to grind. It is generally better to ask one clear question, so you are sure to get the answer. Then you ask the second. Anyway, Zoom live was much more lively than a list of written questions.