The human race was working tirelessly to perfect self-driving cars, explore space tourism, develop gene therapy to reverse aging, reach beyond the boundaries to make what we once thought was impossible a very real possibility. Humans were delving into the depths of our wildest imagination to improve humanity. We were in complete control. Or were we?
Amid this sense of invincible attitude, we got a reminder that shook our world. Coronavirus reminded us that we are not invincible. We may have had our lives in a tight grip. But it took one virus to take that control away from us. It took lives, it tore families apart, it destroyed businesses, it took our well-being and our sense of comfort. One virus shook the entire world. There are no safe code words. It can attack anyone, at any time.
Life was once thought to be priceless. We all have learned through our experiences that life is just not fair. But is it unfair enough to put a price on each of our lives? What is undeniable is that some of us have a disadvantage against coronavirus: the elderly, obese, and those with chronic medical conditions have a higher mortality rate. And those of us in lower socioeconomic status are more likely to have chronic medical conditions and lack of medical care, making us more susceptible.
As the officials put in place social distancing and stay-at-home orders, many sectors of our economy including the hospitality industry, restaurants, theaters, retail, travel and airline industries, transportation industry, and many more incurred tremendous losses. As a result of the furloughs, 26 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits. Millions of families living paycheck to paycheck who were already in poor health can no longer afford basic necessities. They don’t have paid sick leave. After schools closed down, children don’t have access to a hot lunch.
And others of us have an advantage against coronavirus. We continue to have access to home gyms, have the ability to order groceries and food online, work from home, have paid sick leave, afford to live in the comforts of our own homes without the fear of affording basic necessities. So, is one life worth more than the other? The virus does not discriminate; the socioeconomic disparities do. The health disparities that result put a price on life.
How can we equalize this price? What should be the next steps using what we learned from this pandemic? We need to use this momentum to establish preventative strategies. At a national level, we need epidemic prevention systems. The Center for Disease Control must reinvest in global health security initiatives. On a personal level, we need to improve our lifestyles and build consistent initiatives in schools and work places that promote health and wellness. We need to promote health in populations that don’t have an easy access to positive lifestyle changes. We need to support our most susceptible: the elderly and the marginalized populations. We need to create a level playing field and decrease the health disparities as much as possible.
It shouldn’t have taken a pandemic for us to propel this much needed change. But here we are. And the time is now. We need to take our control back. We need to tighten our grip on our health on a personal and national level.
This pandemic is reminding us of what is most important: our health system.
Dr. Vijeta Pamudurthy
Physician and gastroenterology fellow in Kankakee