As my grandmother used to say, “The person who has no health has nothing”. Being in good health must be understood not only as the lack of disease, but also as enjoying a state of full physical, mental and social health. Ensuring a healthy life and encouraging wellbeing for everyone, at all ages, is essential for sustainable development. SDGs lay a complex reality before us, since accomplishment of an SDG depends on the achievement of all others, in a circular symbiosis of sorts. Thus, policies set forth by public bodies should be integral and global, but applied locally. In the previous entry of this blog we said hunger prevents people from facing life in a healthy manner. But it so happens that if we don’t enjoy a good health, we lack the will to work, which is what grants us the means to leave poverty, which in turn enables us to feed ourselves… thereby improving our health.
My good friend Erio Ziglio always uses a very explicit example on the subject: “It is useless to invest on treatments and hospitals if, once we cure the infirm, we send them back to the environment which got them sick”. In other words, healthcare starts in the personal and family environment of each person, not in hospitals.
Thinking locally, this may well be one of the easiest goals to accomplish, because it mostly depends on ourselves. Many may say they are tired of getting told to lead a healthy life, to eat a balanced diet, not to smoke, to do sports, to drink in moderation, not to take drugs… In the end, can’t each person do as he pleases with his own body? Yes and no. Truth is sometimes we forget most of us can choose to stay healthy. Sometimes disease is bound to happen… it can’t always be avoided. But, are we aware of the healthcare resources we consume when we decide not to stay healthy? Our healthcare services are overflowing with cases that could have been avoided. And through our actions, we deny access to healthcare to people who may need it more than we do, because their disease may be caused, for example, by malnutrition or due to living in unhealthy conditions.
In any case, it is evident that healthcare has made great strides in the last century, even in developing countries, even though it is evident that the problems we face are quite different. If, in our western world, we attempt to reduce the number of deaths and injuries caused by traffic accidents, in many places of the world they are still concerned with reducing the soaring rates of child mortality. While in our wealthy society we attempt to reduce the impact tobacco consumption has on our health, there are countries where malaria and improperly treated tropical diseases are still wreaking havoc on the most vulnerable sector of the population.
Supporting research and development of vaccines and medications for diseases –transmissible and non-transmissible– affecting mainly developing countries, and providing access to essential medications and vaccines at reasonable prices are two of the measures that should be jointly fostered by all countries. On the Canary Islands we have the great example of the Institute of Tropical Diseases, which, masterfully led by professor Basilio Valladares, proves that important projects can be developed inside the Canary Islands towards achieving the SDGs, not only in our territory, but also projecting them towards countries in our geographic vicinity.
In order to avoid the spreading of diseases it is necessary to strengthen the abilities of all countries, particularly developing countries, for the early detection of any health hazard, supporting the coordinated management of any threat that endangers health, thereby reducing the risk of transmission. The events that took place around the –dismal- management of the latest Ebola outbreaks, or the pandemic threat brought on by the swine flu or the Zika virus, should lead us to reflect on the importance of coordination at a global level. We should react since the moment we get the first warning, and not only when our comfort zone feels threatened. Sometimes we forget that the life of a person infected with Ebola is worth the same in Congo or Tenerife, and that we all have the same right to be saved.
Vulnerability to disease makes us equal, because we are all human. Let’s not allow access to healthcare resources to set us apart, because all lives are equally valuable.