Tag Archives: global health

In the Event of a Sudden Drop in Global Health

Back before the pandemic, I was a fairly frequent airline passenger. Before a flight took off, I and the other passengers would be exposed to safety announcements by staff (or, more recently, on video). Toward the end of their presentation, they’d give an explanation of what to do if our cabin became depressurized during high-altitude flight:

“In the event of a sudden drop in cabin pressure, oxygen masks will automatically drop from a compartment above your seat. Place your mask over your nose and mouth and breathe normally, securing the strap behind your head. (A flight attendant would demonstrate.) If you are traveling with small children or with others needing assistance, please secure your own mask first, then help those around you.” 

The pandemic nixed my airline travel for a while, but got me wondering. Were there analogies, albeit imperfect, to the current situation of global health? Of course, any pandemic is much more complex than an airline flight. Few, if any of us, have an adequate picture of its scope or trajectory. Even the best informed get fragmented and incomplete data, filtered through a particular set of biases and assumptions. Still, most public health sources are persuaded that none of us will be safe from the SARS-CoV-2 virus until infection rates are reduced to manageable levels everywhere.

Questions about the pandemic are seemingly never-ending. Can non-pharmaceutical public health measures help tame the pandemic? For example, how effective are travel restrictions, mask use, social distancing? How accurate are reports of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths? How reliable are vaccine clinical trial results? How frequent and how serious are side effects from vaccines? Who gets to decide how to allocate available vaccine doses? What gaps in public health infrastructure are most crucial to the pandemic’s spread? How long-lasting is vaccine-induced immunity? What about virus variants? 

Once the pandemic reached the area where I lived, I was at intermediate risk due to my age, over 70. As a retiree who rarely worked outside the home, I was able to reduce my potential exposure to the virus, unlike my health care worker son and daughter-in-law or my warehouse worker nephew. As a further tool to reduce my exposure, I had access to an N-95 mask purchased pre-pandemic for some home improvement projects. By late winter 2021, I had access to a vaccination. After seeing the minimal vaccine side effects for our son and daughter-in-law and noting the increasing case rates near me, I decided to get vaccinated. Two successive doses of a two-dose vaccine did not eliminate my exposure or disease risk, but in my view reduced it substantially. Though I’m not yet ready for extended airline flights, I feel comfortable traveling again, taking suitable  precautions as I go. Finally, I can breathe nearly normally! 

Now that I’m better protected against the virus, is there anything I can do to assist those around me? Without hard-core proselytizing, I can encourage friends and family to get vaccinated. I can donate time and/or money to efforts to increase vaccination rates globally. I can describe my experiences and my observations of those around me as I’ve traveled by car cross-country. I can listen respectfully to those whose views may be based on different subsets of pandemic information (and/or misinformation), on different life experiences, on different biases. 

Historically, past pandemics have eventually played themselves out. Humanity is still learning how to mitigate the impacts of the pathogens among us. May we get this SARS-CoV-2 “flight” to a less damaging conclusion than prior scourges. May we use what we’ve learned to help make future generations safer. 


Checking Our Sources, Knowing Our Contexts

Checking Our Sources, Knowing Our Contexts   —by Jinny Batterson

As the pandemic caused by the corona virus drags on, amid increasing conjectures about how to respond, increasing finger pointing about whose “fault” it might be, I can feel emotionally overloaded. So far, no one close to me has died of the infection, though several friends and relatives have had cases of varying degrees of severity. The small enclave where I live stays mainly quiet, those of us retired or furloughed staying pretty close to home, those still in the paid workforce adjusting work routines to stay as safe as practical.  

More of us live more of our lives in virtual spaces—emails, virtual meetings, social media posts. It can be tempting to get all of our input filtered through some electronic medium or other. My biological and intentional families are politically diverse. In these fraught times, we sometimes avoid discussing politics, but it can be nearly impossible not to be influenced by what we see, hear, and read. When discussions get especially heated, I try to remember some of my history teachers, including my part-time historian mother. 

“Check your sources,” they would repeatedly caution. “Everyone has an angle. Why did this particular source frame this particular event in this way? What advantage did they gain from telling their story from this viewpoint?”  

It’s disturbing to me that a fair amount of “information” these days is murkily sourced, if sourced at all. Lots of groups with high-sounding names have turned out to be unreliable at best, malicious at worst. Conspiracy theories abound.

It’s unclear where the virus causing covid-19 originated. It’s unclear exactly when it first spread among humans. It’s unclear all the ways the virus may be transmitted. It’s unclear why some people have few or mild symptoms, while others with similar backgrounds can be severely affected.  Given these uncertainties, it’s natural for us to form theories about what’s happening. What’s not natural is for so many of us to be so adamantly certain of “answers.”

I try to vary the sources of information I review, to filter out the obviously bogus. I know, too, that I respond to content in part from the contexts in which my life has unfolded so far. During my childhood, polio was a crippling pandemic that tended to reappear each summer, impacting both children and adults in seemingly random fashion. In some years in the early 20th century, as many as 6,000 Americans had died. Most Americans knew that president Franklin Roosevelt had contracted polio as an adult during the 1920’s and never fully regained the use of his legs. At its maximum in the U.S., in the early 1950’s, there were nearly 58,000 U.S. cases annually, with nearly 3,000 deaths. Swimming pools closed. Parents restricted their children’s friendships. 

Eventually, medical researchers tracked down the source of the illness and developed successive vaccines. I remember when I was in elementary school being part of a large-scale medical trial in which many of us got doses of an oral vaccine. In 2020, polio infections exist in just three countries globally, with fewer than 200 annual cases. Global health workers do their best to detect and isolate pockets of infection, often in war-torn areas, and to make sure at-risk children get vaccinated against the disease. 

At some future point, this novel corona virus that is spreading illness and death will yield to research and to more effective responses. Until that happens, it behooves us humans, whatever our political leanings or backgrounds, to check our sources and to be as aware as we can of our contexts.