Divided America

The Government has Learned Nothing From Previous Pandemics

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by Xan Holbrook

As I’m writing this, I’m preparing to move abroad to start work. Or rather, I would be, if only for the fact that the country in question has just closed its borders, and I will be working remotely from here on. A sensible measure, given the emergence of the new viral strain of COVID-19.

Now, I’m not here to proclaim the end times (people hoarding bog roll and sanitizer and trying to flog it on eBay, in a business move worthy of Frank Reynolds, notwithstanding) but rather point out that this, like any other new viral strain, needs to be taken more seriously by the Anglophone sphere.

Rather than emulating Frank’s business practices, perhaps hide in your couch?

Australia, with its already draconian border controls, has led the charge, mirroring the closing off of much of the European Schengen Area. My own government’s response is described as piecemeal in the press, as borders and schools remain open, and my city is fast running out of toilet paper because most people are dense as bricks. But pandemonium? No. Rather, the panic is centered more on what the disease will do to our elderly, and if our already stretched NHS can handle the strain.

And yet, as that mention of public health services implies, I despair more for what can happen to America over the coming months. A disappointing truth about previous American pandemics is that the federal government often falls flat on their faces or doesn’t bother at all. I say this not to stoke the flames of idiocy, but rather to put the flame to the whole diseased apparatus of US Healthcare.

One of Bill Hicks’ canny observations present in Sane Man reference the way in which the Republican Right managed to harness sheer mob stupidity, and indulged anti-intellectualism and superstition (“Whatchu readin’ for?”). Anyone who takes even a cursory look at the acquisitive “me” decade can see that this selfishness permeated every aspect of life, right down to healthcare. Not only did privatization, ushered in by Nixon, increase its hold on people’s simple wish to not die, but people started to have second thoughts over the real-world miracles that modern medical science performs every day, namely vaccines.

The combination for the two resulted in parents deliberately not vaccinating their children or (more commonly) being unable to afford a vaccine, with healthcare costs running too high or school initiatives being defunded. All this led to a widespread outbreak of measles among children – only 15% of those infected had received the preliminary round of shots – and the germinal stirrings of a movement which can ensure that these childhood diseases won’t be eradicated just yet. This, less than a decade after the victory over Smallpox, and with barely a peep from the government.

And this pales in comparison to what came next.

No one reading this article needs reminding of the horror that HIV and AIDS inspires. What may be forgotten, however, is that the epidemic, as far as health organizations are concerned, is still ongoing. Over half a million in America have died since the start of the crisis, with an average of 13,000 people dying each year, and over a million live with the disease. The ignorance and stigma around the illness spread like buck shot, despite the fact that heterosexuals comprise 90% of all those infected. Furthermore, despite the fact that it was and remains a deadly illness, the disease comes and goes from the Western public consciousness, not to mention that it continues to claim millions in Africa.

Reagan created an HIV commission, and in 1987 its report was received. The commission called for increased HIV testing, stronger legal protection for people with HIV, prevention and treatment of substance abuse, and expansion of the workforce providing HIV care and treatment.

Reagan left this starving on a pile of papers, and people continued to die destitute. Clinton tried to renew a national campaign against the virus in the 90s, by drawing up a similar list to the one recommended to Reagan. Like Reagan before him, that was enough for one presidency’s work. He was regretting his intern’s choice of dry cleaner and lying through his teeth, while people continued to die.

Obama tried, and now Trump has, the latter promising to eradicate new infections by 2030, and apparently he wishes to do so without such unnecessary things like public health services and regulation, and by excluding minorities, who make up 65% of all annual infections and over half of all deaths.

One’s blood begins to curdle.

If the US system is not overhauled from the ground up, the fanatics taken away from the halls of power and the shamen unhorsed by the scientist, then this will only continue, and uninsured America can only peep through its fingers at the coming disaster.

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