By Olivia LaRosa, September 2, 2014 Today, a headline caught my eye. Cuts in WHO hurt response to ebola. (NYT 9-2-2014) What is WHO? Why, it’s the World Health Organization, which is supposed to respond quickly and effectively to outbreaks of dread diseases such as Ebola. You will be shocked, shocked to learn that WHO is underfunded and suffers continual cuts in funding. It is one of the organizations that the US helped to create from the basis of the Geneva Conventions and United Nations treaties. We not only agreed to form these organizations, we help to support them based on our own commitment. People who don’t think we should be wasting our tax money on people who are dying in other continents might blink slowly when they hear this. Pay them no mind. If they are capable of absorbing information they will do it without your further intervention. Rome and other large capitals had public water and sewer facilities before 1BC. After the fall of the Roman Empire, public health endeavors fell apart. People bragged about bathing only three times in their lives. Their streets were lined with open sewers. Horse droppings were more abundant and frequent than snow and rain. When the plague came upon us, public health was in complete disarray. The most important life-saving measures of the last 500 years have been the rebirth of the public health system. In a globalized world we have globalized ills. It behooves us to pay attention to this above all else.
The Black Death and early public health measures
Lead mortuary crosses, England, 1300s and 1600s
‘Cito, Longe, Tarde.’
Hippocrates and Galen are colossal figures in the history of medicine, renowned for their wise and innovative advice on medical matters. When it came to plague, they offered similar guidance, rendered in Latin as ‘Cito, Longe, Tarde,’ which translates as ‘Leave quickly, go far away and come back slowly.’ When the Black Death swept over much of Asia, Europe and parts of Africa in the mid-1300s, such advice was about as good as it got. Present in bubonic, pneumonic and septicaemic forms, the Black Death had killed millions by the time it finally declined. Europe may have lost a third of its people, China perhaps half. Besides death, the disease brought fear, panic and very often a complete breakdown of society.(1)
Even as late as 1665, public health measures were primitive. Ships turned
away from ports, families locked into their homes, quarantines were the
basic measures employed. Still, Britain was largely unprepared for the
Now in the 21st century, our public health systems, designed and operated
in a normal manner, have protected us from great resurgences of the Plague.
In the 20th Century, the world largely eradicated polio and offered a full
spectrum of antibiotics that cured permanent disfiguring and loathsome
diseases such as leprosy and syphilis. Tuberculosis was under control.
No one got dysentery in the big rich countries.
Then along came AIDS in the late 1970s. Work on containing the disease
andsaving its victims was delayed by the political games of the right wing.
President Ronald Reagan dithered far too long before bringing the
resources of the US public health system to bear and millions have died
because of this reckless behavior.
So, why are we underfunding the World Health Organization? Because
the right doesn’t care about the health of anyone except their immediate
families, for the most part. Righties especially do not care about brown or
yellow people from their home, or other countries.