Field of Science

Broken but not yet Dead

I became fairly ill on my last trip to Russia in August. The disease itself was fairly nasty if generally treatable, though it came with a not insignificant chance of developing fatal complications. Meanwhile, it took me a day to convince any of my friends that I was sick enough that I needed to see a doctor (they all wanted me to take various berries or herbs instead). Having gotten one friend on board, it took him a day to find a hospital that was open (one was closed because of a power outage, and several were open but all the doctors were on vacation). I eventually got to a doctor who gave me the necessary meds. Within a few days my fever was low enough I could get around reasonably well, and though I still felt like shit for a few weeks after that, I was able to fly home on schedule.

I was reminded of this story by Dr. Isis's harrowing account of her recent, nasty bout of mosquito-born infection. Her story is much more compelling than mine (one reason I didn't have a full post on mine before) and worth reading in its own right. What I picked up on in particular was the following:
Health care in the United States might be broken, but at least we have health care.  I spent the last two weeks teaching medical school in a country where much of the population doesn't have access to running water and access to fresh food is limited.  41% of children under four are iron deficient.  There are 60 times more low birth weight infants per capita than in the United States.  There is a hospital in the capitol city, but no CT, MRI, or dialysis. It has two intensive care beds. Nine ambulances service the entire country.  Medical record keeping is problematic and there is a shortage of technicians, doctors, and nurses.
That's absolutely true. It's also a reminder, though, that things broken -- if left without repairs too long -- eventually decay away. Right now it is nice that our (American) health care system is still better than that in the developing world ... but it's worrisome that it's not as good as that in the rest of the developed world. If we wait long enough without fixing it we may wake up one day and find that we are no longer in the developed world.

If this seems far-fetched, consider that among developed nations, we're in the middle or back of the pack in health care, primary education, income equality and especially Internet infrastructure. In most of these areas (perhaps not primary education) we've beens steadily losing ground for decades (we're also losing ground in fields where we're still technically ahead, like science). If that continues, we will eventually be left behind.


Isis the Scientist said...

You're absolutely right, GwW. Our system may be dysfunctional, but we have to fix it before it is destroyed.

Human Mathematics said...

Did you see Hans Rosling's TED talk about health & wealth in various countries over time? China has a higher health score than we do, even though they're poorer.