Feb 3, 2020
At the beginning of February, the new coronavirus had killed at least 300 people in China, the country where it seems to have started, with thousands more infected. While it is not yet clear whether the coronavirus will actually become a major international epidemic, it has already spread to other countries, including those that might seem to have the most resources to combat it, like the United States.
But it is clear that despite this country’s vast wealth and all of its modern technology, the United States is completely unprepared for a major epidemic. The problem is not that there is a new virus. The problem is that this system is organized for profit—and that profit comes before everything, including the health of the population.
This can be seen in the fact that last year in the U.S., more than 60,000 people died of the flu.
The flu is relatively easy to combat. There is a flu vaccine. When people get the flu anyway, they need to stay home, rest, drink plenty of fluids, and maybe have someone help take care of them while they recover. But for many people in this country, these treatments don’t work, or don’t happen at all.
Drug companies operate for profit, but flu vaccines are not very profitable. As a result, while flu vaccines are only partially effective, researching better vaccines—and even making sure they have produced enough of them—is not a priority for the drug companies.
Even with a better vaccine, many people would still get the flu—in which case, they need to stay home and rest.
But how many bosses make it clear that they do not want their workers taking sick days, even when they have flu-like symptoms?
Children are one of the most vulnerable groups to the flu. But how many bosses make it known that workers cannot take time off to take care of sick children—and as a result, how many children go to day care or school when they have the flu?
People over 65 are another group especially vulnerable to flu, and many elderly people need special care when they get sick. But how many bosses make it clear they will not allow workers the necessary time to help aging relatives recover from sickness? How many elderly people have no one to help them in this society that throws people out as soon as it can’t profit from them? As a result, many elderly people die from the flu because they don’t get the help they need.
This profit-driven medical system has also fostered distrust in itself. One example: the drug companies consciously pushed opioids, even when the companies knew these drugs were highly addictive versions of heroin, all so they could profit. This has led to millions of people getting addicted, and tens of thousands dying of overdoses.
In light of countless experiences like this, in this individualistic society with its motto, “buyer beware,” is it any wonder that many people do not trust what the medical system tells them? No wonder so many people avoid the flu vaccine, even when it is available.
The profit-driven individualism of this class society runs counter to the most basic requirements to fight an epidemic like the flu, or the coronavirus. Every person who avoids getting the vaccine, every infected person who goes to work, every sick child who goes to day care or school, puts everyone they come in contact with at risk.
In a rational society, that is, one organized collectively to deal with our collective problems, medical research would be directed to fight the deadliest diseases. No one would go to work when they have symptoms of a contagious disease. Those most vulnerable to diseases like the flu—children, the elderly, those with weakened immune systems—would be regularly checked on, and when sick, taken care of. Just imagine what might be done to ensure the health of the population if the wealth and technology available in this country were organized collectively, and dedicated to serving the population’s needs.
But as long as we live in a system where everything is subordinate to the profits of a tiny minority and we are each left to take care of our own health, we will continue to be threatened by potentially curable diseases of all sorts, from the flu to the coronavirus.