Rawt bulletin issued by the Organization of Communist Alternative in Iraq in Kurdish language, in its fourth and fifth issues, held a roundtable seminar with some of the specialists on the Corona pandemic and its political, health, religious, social and economic dimensions. Comrade Sherine Abdullah had a participation in which she shed light on the health and health policy aspect. Given the importance of the topic, we bring you here a text of questions and answers on this aspect.
Health and technology profile and health policy
Rawt: Donald Trump, has accused China of spreading the Corona / SARS 2 / pandemic, Covid 19, in turn, China accused the US military teams that visited Wuhan and stayed there of transmitting the virus .. Medical and scientific sources indicate that the virus has been around since mid-December 2019 In a popular market where bats meat was served, until it spread to the world. In fact, medical teams in China from the same city in March of last year published a report on the topic indicating the risk of human disease. This is still in the archive. Another medical group at the WHO conferences warned of a high possibility of an epidemic (named it disease X) if you did not follow the necessary health measures, how do you explain these scenarios?
Sherine Abdullah / These scenarios for America and China, and the accusations against each other, are in fact an escape from the reality they created for us and escaping answering all questions and public discontent with their authorities in the face of this epidemic, which is part of the tragedy that 7.3 billion people suffer from. Whether the virus came from China´-or-America, it does not change anything for us, as we suddenly found ourselves, as soldiers without weapons, in the front line of confrontation with a deadly disease, because we do not know much about it and the –dir–ections that are given us are vague and confusing, and we are facing a bleak and frightening economic future. As you indicated, the medical authorities believe that the virus has natural origins, so that a group of doctors and public health scientists issued a message of solidarity with doctors and scholars of China published in the British Lancet (the link below is for this magazine) one of the most well regarded medical journals to the world in its issue of 19.2.2020, in which they emphasized that the virus is of natural origin and expressed their concern about these propaganda that, in addition to creating panic and suspicions, they impede our global efforts to contain the pandemic. The scientific reports and evidence that prove this are available and accessible. But what is in question is the reason for the emergence of this epidemic and many other natural epidemics and it is now clear that the unlimited exploitation of wildlife and nature through hunting and trade for profit in the neoliberal capitalist system is the one that has increased the risk of human exposure to animal viruses, evidence of the total disregard of this system not only for the livelihood and welfare of the inhabitants of the globe, but also for the environment, climate and bio- diversity, ignoring it and indifference to the resulting risks.
Rawt: Do you think there are shortcomings in health policies worldwide?
S A: On December 31, 2019, China informed the World Health Organization of “a number of severe cases of pneumonia” in Wuhan, Hubei Province, which later became known as the Novel Coronavirus. On 11.3.2020 – a global pandemic – was announced. Now, after more than four months, this disease has claimed more than 260,000 lives and injured 3.8 million around the world.
The situation could have been different from what it is now.
There is no doubt that the health policies of countries have shortcomings and the protest voices have risen against them from all over the world.
Before talking about how countries dealt with Corona, I would like to make clear that the majority of the countries of the world were not primarily prepared for such a situation and that one of the main reasons for this is the weakness and neglect of health and social care systems. This is at a time when the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Tedros Gebresos, announced at the Astana 2018 conference that half of the world’s 7.3 billion people lack primary health services, including prevention of communicable and non-communicable diseases, childhood, maternity, reproductive, sexual and psychological health, etc. In addition to that, we see in recent years that even the countries where these services were available to some extent, these systems have been systematically neglected and weakened by strengthening the private sector, introducing the market forces and profit, and reducing the role and responsibility of the state in providing these basic necessities to society. This was a factor in further weakening public systems and in their inability to withstand such a shock. Experts and health scientists have sounded the alarm, but their cries have been met with deaf ears.
For example, two doctors who specialize in public health in Britain indicated in 2014 that when (and not if) the next pandemic, which may be bird flu´-or-others, hit us, we will not have more than a few weeks to act. Meaning that the pandemic was at the top of the list of expected threats in the country. The two doctors highlighted that the 2012 amendments to Britain s National Health Service NHS had greatly exacerbated this risk. It is worth noting that the British NHS is one of the most successful systems globally within the developed countries and is provided free of charge to all its residents. In the last 30 years, successive governments in Britain have engaged in a series of brutal and systematic attacks on this system with the aim of introducing the market and its gradual withdrawal from the public sector to the private sector and the extraction of profits, so many services were closed -or-restricted and many workers lost their jobs. These attacks, included, in addition to the field of Health, all other public services such as education, transport and communication, social services, the social welfare system, housing, etc., to a degree that led to an increase in the poverty rate in the country, creating a crisis for charitable organizations that themselves were included this process in the same way.
The arrival of Coronavirus pandemic :
So the shortcomings are long-term and have not started now, and this same system is part of the disaster. With the emergence of Corona, this neglect became more glaring, not only in Britain, but also in many so called developed countries.
As you know, the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency on 30/1/2020 and before that, on 10.1.2020 the organization issued a package of measures for all countries according to the information available at the time about the disease.
Criticisms directed at countries in general are:
– We see that instead of joint action and coordination among themselves to eliminate the pandemic, they deal individually and from a narrow nationalistic perspective.
– Health measures are sluggish to develop and lacking care by neglecting the direct process of testing and tracing of cases and contacts and delay in banning public gatherings such as religious and sports ceremonies and parties and large social events and lack of control of borders and quarantine of arrivals to the country and not to work quickly to provide protective equipment such as adequate masks, gloves and respirators (which many countries could have manufactured locally- or-made use of their military stocks!). In February and March there was a crucial opportunity that was lost, that countries should have used to prepare for the pandemic that was spreading daily before our eyes.
– Ignoring forgotten groups in society, such as refugees, prisoners, homeless people, the displaced and camps residents, homes for the elderly and the disabled …etc
– Women and victims of domestic violence were not included in the preventive plans, as voices of opposition by feminist organizations quickly rose in many countries due to the increase in cases of violence against women who were forced to remain in quarantine with their abusers, made worse by the difficulty in obtaining services and the difficulty of communication and transportation…
– Many countries have followed the herd immunity policy, which has come under heavy criticism from public health experts for being inappropriate. Some countries have backed away from this, but their preventive policies have remained at best ambiguous and confusing to the masses.
– Workers working in the essential jobs (key workers), such as health, transport, postal, municipal workers, supermarkets, and those working in preparing and packaging food … whom excluded from the ‘Stay at Home’ guidance. So these groups are the most vulnerable to infection with the virus. However, we see a flagrant neglect by many countries towards these groups, especially in terms of providing personal protective equipment PPE and lack of clarity of instructions. So we see significant numbers of victims among health personnel, transportation and other key workers. This is at a time when there is an acute severe global shortage in the number of service personnel, especially in the health sector, according to WHO reports.
– Financial aid packages do not include many workers and most do not have any economic security, and therefore they cannot easily stop working and adhere to the home quarantine in the event that they- or-the family members become ill. This has become an obstacle to controlling the outbreak of the virus. This is in addition to the fact that countries like Iraq have not provided any financial assistance at all.
Rawt: Do you have an important observation about the measures that countries have taken to reduce the spread of the epidemic? Was the Chinese model successful- or-Sweden? What do you think of Korea and America? Why did Italy s health system deteriorate within Europe?
S A: Comparing individual countries and the effects of the pandemic on them is not simple and straight forward, and each country has its own system for recording infections and deaths .. But there are successful models in the world that are a source of hope and indicate that rapid action and coordination can contribute greatly to preventing the spread of the virus- or- at least protect us from the worst outcomes. For example, South Korea, which conducted intense mass testing & tracing,- or-Germany, who quickly escalated the testing process as well, New Zealand in the same way, followed the strategy to eliminate the virus. On the other hand, we see that the countries of America, Britain and Brazil, for example, has had huge numbers of infections and deaths, due to the slow movement and lack of clarity in their instructions, and pointing fingers of blame on this and that and narrow thinking in the geographic borders of their countries for internal purposes instead of coordinating globally. This pattern of indifference and apathy has become the object of widespread public discontent and put the role of the countries of the world in caring for the interests of their citizens in question.
Rawt: After passing the Corona stage, there is no doubt that any person, entity, group, and serious political party must formulate a public health policy project within its program, and a serious change will occur in the entire junctures of the health system. What do you think, the program, project, and scientific standards that societies require today?
S A: In my opinion, this pandemic has, to this day, brought to the fore two dilemmas, and that humanity has reached a place where solving them has become an absolute priority that cannot be delayed. The first is inequality, and the second is the lack of public health services for all and for free.
Covid-19 shed light on the problems of those groups in society that are not seen- or-heard by the authorities and that are not counted for in their economic, social and political plans. Corona has awakened the whole world that we are surrounded by unbelievable inequality. Covid-19 is a biological challenge. In addition to its physical and psychological health effects, it has far-reaching economic and social impacts as well. I can say that a search in the biographical backgrounds of those infected and those most affected by this epidemic can lead us to the methods of treatment and prevention of future other similar epidemics.
The BBC page 8.5.2020 indicated that the death rate from Corona among the inhabitants of the deprived regions (55 100,000), fifty five deaths among every hundred thousand, which is twice that of the richest areas in which the proportion is twenty five deaths out of every hundred thousand (25) 100,000).
Any public health project can serve the community only when all sections of society can get it for free and equally without any differences.
What is required in all countries is a system of public health and social welfare with high international standards of education and training, devices and equipment with high specifications, decent working conditions, and that provides a secure and appropriate living standards for all of its employees. A system that can provide services to society equally and without differences and be shielded from the market and the private sector interference and neoliberal economic policies.
(This interview was published in Kurdish in issue no 5 of Rawt Newspaper, and in Arabic in Socialist Tomorrow Newspaper issue no 9)