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COVID-19: A Humbling Perspective – April 2020

Global impacts of the coronavirus and comparison to other illnesses and disease

As COVID-19 sets in as a reality for much of our current world, we are faced with significant impacts on our economy. This is due to so many people unable to attend to work because of the current government restrictions.

COVID-19 as a virus certainly has its serious implications. Globally it has brought the world to a grinding halt. People have felt insecurity and fear. We are seeing supermarkets raids to stockpile foods and products with the priority to look after themselves and their loved ones. Many are taking serious measures to remain at home and stick to ‘social distancing’ rules as mandated by governments.

Current statistics indicate that the number of people affected is 1.2 million. 62,000 have already deceased from this global epidemic as of the 5th of April 2020. These numbers represent someone’s mother, father, son, daughter… etc. This is a disease that people are seeking to protect themselves from. Understandably so, and especially warranted for the subset of our population that is at significant risk (elderly, co-morbidities, immune-compromised etc). But is there something we are missing here with the big picture? When we look at health statistics globally, we can see high numbers of people dying each year from various conditions:

  • Heart disease – 17 million / year

  • Cancer – 9.6 million / year

  • Diabetes – 1.5 million / year

  • Violence – 1.6 million / year.

These numbers are significantly higher than the deaths currently from COVID-19. COVID-19 is in its early phases and the worldwide toll on lives remains to be seen. Statistical data from COVID-19 deaths are also difficult to distinguish from those of the flue. None the less, it is hard to imagine that the true statistics will come anywhere close to taking the number of lives lost to heart disease or cancer alone. This remains to be seen of course.

Statistics deals with numbers. And it is always important to not just see numbers as just numbers. Numbers represent people - this is the humbling part. And people dying from any cause matters - from the coronavirus or from heart disease. Yet, it appears that the deaths from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and/or domestic violence are going largely un-noticed by the media and the public, whilst there is a greater emphasis and focus on the deaths from COVID-19. And this is understandable given that this is a recent viral epidemic. However, we must ask: Over the years, have we become desensitised to the number of people dying from hearth disease, or cancer or other causes as mentioned above? Because these number represent epidemic proportions of deaths too. So we could ask here: “Why has the world not come to a stop for these equally impacting non-corona virus deaths that have been happening each year? And, furthermore, we could ask: Why are the public and the government not activating to cease all contributing factors to these conditions and supporting and demanding that the public cooperates in eradicating these very conditions.” So much of the contributing factors for many conditions can be addressed by our communities and more globally. Yet immediacy of action to address these statistics seems to be lacking. In relation to heart disease, cancer and diabetes, this would, of course, mean lifestyle changes. Some such lifestyle changes could be as simple as eating more vegetables, cutting back on junk foods and sugar and increasing exercise.

But what we are seeing happening with this global pandemic of the corona virus is a stepping away from work, retreating at home and 'hoarding up on toilet paper' (as evidenced by super marker shelves being completely empty of toilet paper). Why is this happening? Could we not consider that this is a time to deeply care for and look after ourselves and reach out to everyone in the community? Or is it perhaps easier to withdraw than to act on the above measures of looking after oneself physically and emotionally?

As a side note - consider also the word 'disease' or 'dis-ease'. If we consider ‘dis-ease’ in our society as something that relates to the beginnings of physical illness, we could say that 'dis-ease' begins within a community when its members have felt disconnected and lost, requiring a much-needed re-connection in order to return back to ease or absence of illness (be this mental or physical in nature).

Whilst we deny a true care for self and the community, the same contributing factors for heart disease, diabetes and domestic violence continue to spew forth more deaths from these very conditions during this time of restrictions and social isolation as mandated and recommended by the government in response to COVID-19. Globally this spells a medical and economic disaster that many recognise will be a reality very soon. These people with the conditions mentioned above, require medical support and care. Reducing access to this needed medical care will delay intervention and preventative measures.

So … why is this happening on a larger scale? It may appear too bold to ask: Could this be a convenient retreat for some? A way to retreat from society and our responsibilities?

But if this is indeed the case, what responsibility are we really avoiding?

Current regulations and shutting down businesses and communities in order to ‘safeguard’ people during acute phases of the COVID-19 outbreak is not what is argued here. What is presented here is the question of why do we find it so hard to activate changes to look after ourselves and our own health and well-being (in terms of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, domestic violence etc)? If we applied the same diligence to addressing heart disease alone as we have in dealing with COVID-19, you could imagine the whole world grinding to a halt until such time that we together worked out what is the cause and then acted to significantly reduce the number of cases. And knowing that lifestyle changes such as nutrition, exercise as well as a community connection are here paramount for conditions such as a heart disease, there is ample evidence from various sources including the Roseto study that would support us with making these changes.

In consideration of this, perhaps the government mandate would be: Wash your hands for 30 seconds

eat your vegetables

cut back on sugar and alcohol


deeply connect with those around you.


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