US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — Since the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic began in the Chinese city of Wuhan in the industrial province of Hubei, we have seen health problems around the world. It seems that we seemed to be back in the Middle Ages in terms of readiness to withstand such disasters.
This is strange, because, as we know, both technologically and industrially developed countries and countries lagging behind in this regard are working out a variety of scenarios of confronting disasters, even those that can happen only in our fantasies. The goal of these scenarios is to anticipate any development of events and prepare for them.
Today, it looks as if no one really expected the possibility of a threat like coronavirus, and therefore was not ready for what was happening, although many literary works and films predicted events like today. People are at a loss in the face of a pandemic, the victims of which are hundreds of thousands of people around the world. But still, why?
America is preparing for a zombie invasion!
After the release of the first season of the famous American series The Walking Dead in 2010, the plot of which is built around the end of the world due to a virus infection that has turned people into zombies, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a special report. The author was an admiral who developed instructions for citizens on how to behave in the event of an epidemic and the appearance of the walking dead, or the so-called “zombies,” how to deal with them and survive.
This may seem strange and even ridiculous, but according to the author, deputy director of the National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-borne and Vector-borne Infections, “if something like this happens in reality, the reader will be happy to have these instructions, as they can save his life.” Regardless of whether the end of the world can happen due to the appearance of zombies or not, the instructions will be useful for all types of emergency situations, both natural and man-made. This is a good example of the extent to which the human mind can visualize and anticipate possible disasters, and then find a way to counter them and survive.
In fact, in each country, strategic planners are studying all the scenarios that could lead to a global catastrophe. They bring them up for discussion and look for ways to solve problems. It can be local, and regional, and global disasters. Governments are trying to prepare for them in accordance with their capabilities in order to prevent or mitigate their consequences as much as possible so that states can have the opportunity to rise and develop further.
For example, the Republic of Kiribati, located on an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, tried to acquire land on the Fiji Islands in 2016. She feared the flooding of 32 islands of the country, located just a few meters above sea level. Against the backdrop of global warming and rising water levels in the seas and oceans, they can sink under water at any time, and therefore decision makers in a small republic decided to buy safer lands to move 100,000 people in case of emergency.
In 2009, the world was surprised by the President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed and his ministers. During the United Nations Global Warming Conference in Copenhagen, he signed an agreement underwater at a depth of about four meters, sitting at a table in a diving suit. So he wanted to emphasize the need for measures to prevent a global environmental catastrophe caused by climate warming.
There are countries awaiting disaster due to the economic crisis. So, in 2012, former US Senator Jim Demint published a book that set out his ideas for saving the United States in the event of economic collapse and subsequent chaos. He outlined the scenarios of saving and rebuilding the country thanks to the small elite that will sponsor the rise of the United States after the great collapse.
On this basis, Washington submitted to the Senate a project to buy a giant plane, on which survivors could produce currency, and create an army that could bring the country back to life in the event of a major economic catastrophe.
In fact, the United States is gearing up for the worst military disasters the human imagination can imagine. Washington has an E-4B Boeing 747 (known as the Doomsday Aircraft), which cost the state treasury $ 223 million. It is capable of withstanding a direct nuclear strike and was designed in such a way as to become the headquarters of the US military operations management, the headquarters of people from the White House and other departments, and is considered safer than the Pentagon.
As for similar measures in the healthcare sector that could prevent the coronavirus from infecting almost 70 thousand American citizens (the number of people infected with coronavirus at the time of writing of this article – ed.) , The death of a thousand of them and the isolation of the three most important states, they simply did not exist. Moreover, no one has worked through scenarios of the crisis, as a result of which the United States would suffer from a shortage of medical masks and equipment.
In other words, countries have developed an action plan for the most unbelievable events, such as economic collapse, nuclear war, natural disasters (earthquakes, volcanic eruptions) and even technological disasters, however, were not ready to withstand the current health crisis due to the coronavirus epidemic . This is strange, because in recent years the world has already faced similar epidemics (SARS and Ebola), which could be considered a kind of warning about a future disaster.
Italian healthcare system. How one of the most developed systems in the world turned out to be so weak
In less than three weeks, the impotence of health authorities in northern Italy, in areas with a huge number of infected with COVID-19, became apparent. The world saw possible consequences if countries could not quickly stop the spread of the virus and provide the necessary treatment and care for those infected, so that they could reach the point where the number of infected people began to decline and become less than the number of people who recovered.
Medical workers in different parts of the world, as happened in some northern Italian cities and towns, will face a difficult choice – who to treat and who to leave to their own devices. Massimo Poti, head of the department of infectious diseases at the largest hospital in the province of Lombardy (there is the city of Milan, the outbreak in the north), compared what is happening with the war. Doctors need time to slow the spread of infection, on the one hand, and to study the nature of the virus, on the other.
The Italian experience in fighting the epidemic pointed to the need for tough measures, including a ban on the movement of citizens, which is also evident in other countries. At the same time, attention was drawn to another aspect of what is happening, namely the emergence of field hospitals and tents for emergency care, the lack of respirators, protective masks and medical personnel.
A snapshot of Italian nurse Elena Pagliarini quickly spread on social networks and world media. A woman fell asleep at her desk in a protective suit after 10 hours of continuous work. This photo is a good demonstration of the general situation in the Italian health care system, suffering from an acute shortage of medical personnel to deal with the epidemic.
According to Italian experts, until now, the health care system has coped with complex tasks. Thousands of studies were conducted, people received treatment, underwent intensive care, and all this is free.
However, the current emergency caused widespread debate in Italy about the effectiveness of the country’s health system, which was considered one of the best in the world before the outbreak. Many people criticized the actions of the authorities when it became known about the working conditions of doctors in hospitals and treatment centers, during which 31 doctors died, and another 3 thousand nurses and doctors were infected. The discussion escalated after a statement by the mayor of Bergamo. According to him, the gap between the available resources and the huge number of infected people forced doctors to abandon saving the lives of older people in favor of younger Italians.
Many medical professionals deny this. The mayor of Bergamo is a supporter of Matteo Salvini, the former Minister of the Interior and leader of the North League party, who has always been accused of racism. Therefore, they interpreted his statement as an attempt to cast a shadow on the current prime minister. Thus, the president of the Institute of Anesthesia, Intensive Care and Intensive Care said that her organization had distributed wartime instructions to doctors working in the north of the country. According to her, in exceptional circumstances and in the absence of resources, intensive care is provided to those who are more likely to survive.
The directives say that in the interests of as many citizens as possible restrictions may be imposed on categories of the population entitled to treatment in intensive care units. Thus, those who are more likely to survive and are younger get there. However, Dr. Flavia Bertini added that she provided medical care to everyone. Therefore, in order to counter the current medical disaster, the Italian government announced the urgent recruitment of doctors and nurses who had just graduated to lend a helping hand to the northern regions.
In search of liberalism
“The liberal economy has made profit the goal and outcome of any policy, and medical services are the privilege of the rich.” French philosopher Michel Hongfire.
Not only Italy, but also the majority of developed countries faced the health crisis. The former power is crumbling before our eyes. If we talk about Italy, it is unlikely that another government could achieve great success in confronting the virus. This problem goes beyond the political preferences of ministers and their party affiliation. It is connected with the general policy of the countries of the Western world in recent decades, which is based on the desire for super profits due to key aspects: work, education and medicine. This is dictated by the liberal philosophy that has dominated the global political system for decades.
The current virus seems to have shaken the liberal order and brought it back to reality, having tested its effectiveness in combating national and global catastrophes. The coronavirus pandemic has shown how far this system is from the interests of society in favor of profit. Perhaps the moment when the world overcomes the current crisis will be the beginning of the end of the liberal order.
The world economy, which is based on stock markets, speculation, the extractive industries (oil and gas), as well as tourism, is not able to protect the population from the effects of a pandemic. Privatization and a free market cannot save the lives of millions of people.
The reason is the basic principles of liberalism, or rather its more modern, neoliberal model. This is a reduction in government spending on services such as education and healthcare, maintenance of roads, bridges and water supply, reduction of programs to support socially vulnerable groups of citizens. The goal is to reduce the role of the government and its control over market processes, because any actions of the authorities to protect the environment and ensure decent working conditions, for example, can negatively affect profits.
This led to the privatization, that is, the transfer of state-owned companies, goods, services, banks, large industries, railways and ordinary roads, schools, hospitals and even water supply to private investors and companies that manage the economies of states in such large crises as today. According to opponents of the neoliberal approach, only such great crises demonstrate the flaws of this model.
Not surprisingly, after decades of privatization, the countries of the world found themselves in a difficult situation. What remains of the public sector, that is, hospitals and medical facilities still owned by the state, cannot satisfy the current needs of the population in an epidemic. Most citizens cannot afford to be paid for. This has prompted many governments to regain control of private-sector health facilities. In other words, they are rapidly accelerating nationalization of the industry, as well as the transport sector. This means increased government spending, reduced domestic production and increased debt.
In December 2019, a few weeks before the outbreak in the country, the Italian agency Fondazione GIMBE published the fourth quarterly report for the Budget Office of the Italian Parliament. On its basis, the department is developing a budget allocated to health care.
A number of data presented in the report indicate the effectiveness of the Italian health care system: medical services are provided to citizens at a competitive price, compared with industrialized countries within the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), of which Italy is a member. The Italian health care system is one of the few in the world that provides its citizens with a wide range of services in this area almost for free.
Nevertheless, the report refers to health problems associated with the current economic crisis. As a result, over the past 10 years, public funding of the sector has been gradually reduced. Today it is 1.7% lower than in OECD countries, which means fewer opportunities for hiring medical personnel. According to the authors of the document, this trend forces decision makers to exclude emergency situations in this area.
For years, governments have not arranged the so-called “stress test” for the healthcare system to assess its capabilities in the event of an emergency. Typically, countries conduct such tests for their vital sectors and strategic infrastructure in order to assess their willingness to work in the event of disasters, such as wars. In general, the authors concluded that the Italian government spends less on its health care than the OECD average.
The number of doctors has fallen sharply from 2001 to 2017. If in 2001 the number of doctors and nurses in the health sector was approximately 688,378, then in 2017 it decreased to 647,048, i.e. by 5.8%. In the same year, a total of 1,615 new doctors were hired in the country, which is the lowest in eight years. The share of doctors working under the system of permanent contracts decreased by 6.2% compared with temporary contracts. Such a high percentage indicates a serious decline in the role of the state in the field of health.
The report also touched on the aspect related to the average age of medical workers. There has been a steady increase in the average age of health workers in recent years as a result of cost reductions in order to save the state budget. According to the data, the average age of employees increased from 43.2 in 2001 to 47.2 in 2009 and 50.7 in 2017. In Italy, the largest percentage of working doctors are over 55 years old. In 2017, they made up 54% of all medical workers in the country, compared with 26.5% in 2005.
These figures, due to the reduction in government spending in the field of healthcare, are reflected in the quality of medical services in the country. This is confirmed by Eurostat data. In many European countries, the number of hospital beds per thousand citizens has decreased. In Italy, it fell from four per thousand citizens in 2005 to 3.2 in 2017, in Germany from 8.3 beds in 2006 to only eight in 2017, in Austria from 7.7 to 7.4, and in France from 7.1 to 6 beds per thousand citizens.
In Italy, which ranks first in the number of deaths from coronavirus, as a result of a reduction in government spending over 20 years, there has been a sharp reduction in the number of hospital beds: from 350 thousand beds throughout the country in 1997 to 210 thousand beds in 2017, i.e. by 40%.
As for emergency departments and family units, the country has a little more than 5 thousand hospital beds, distributed in the northern, central and southern regions at the rate of 8.7 beds for every 100 thousand citizens in state and accredited private hospitals. As a rule, the length of stay in intensive care units is 14 days. The average load, according to 2017 published by the Italian Ministry of Health, was approximately 50%. This means that during the spread of coronavirus, about half of the beds in the intensive care units were occupied by patients with other diseases.
As for medical equipment, according to the Ministry of Health, in 2017 there were about 18 thousand mechanical ventilation devices in the country. The public sector accounted for 90% of mechanical ventilation, and the rest was available to accredited private sector institutions. According to the same data, almost 3 thousand devices, or 15% of their total number, were allocated to Lombardy, the epicenter of the epidemic. Another thousand ventilation devices are located in the provinces of Veneto and Emilia-Romagna, which took second and third places in terms of the number of infected. These figures indicate that for 100 thousand citizens across the country there are only 30 such devices.
A world full of weapons and no masks
While countries devote huge budgets to defense, the army, and the military industry to protect their strategic and economic interests within national borders or abroad, where their goals are concentrated around the energy resources needed for the economy, today this huge potential is useless in the face of an epidemic.
They even hire science fiction writers to accomplish military tasks, but cut funding for healthcare facilities. In a country like the United States, nearly $ 643 billion was allocated for defense last year, while healthcare spending was about $ 580 billion. The European Union, which allocated $ 264 billion for joint defense within NATO, spent just $ 190 billion on a common health system in 2018.
It is hard to imagine that while the Mediterranean Sea is filled with soldiers, aircraft carriers, submarines and military bases of NATO, the USA and Great Britain, there are not enough protective masks, respirators, hospital beds and medical personnel to save the lives of citizens. While some, like robbers, are snapping up Chinese medical care, others are considering what is happening as a product of the neoliberal model that dominates the arms race.
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The article is written and prepared by our foreign editors from different countries around the world – material edited and published by Ordo News staff in our US newsroom press.