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Should the UK improve global health?

Written by Science

In an email the other week, the Vice Chancellor of Newcastle University said that “viruses don’t discriminate”. I think that he is wrong.

Viruses do discriminate, against the poor. Even on a national scale, poor people are more likely to be hospitalised for viruses such as the flu. This can be for a multitude of reasons, such as not being able to take the time off work to go to the doctor until the disease is serious.

On an international scale, poorer countries suffer from the effects of pandemics to a much greater extent. Remember the Ebola virus? Do you remember how many people in the UK had Ebola and died? The media acted like it was something to be very concerned about, yet only one person in the UK ever had the virus and they survived. Meanwhile, nearly 5000 people died because of Ebola in Liberia.

Public health practices are the main determinant of how well a country deals with an epidemic. Seeing the UK’s response to the few coronavirus cases that have sprung up should do a good job of reassuring people that the UK is one of the most prepared countries globally for dealing with disease outbreaks. In comparison, countries with a smaller economy or a much larger population might struggle to reach the same quality.

Of course, China is the second biggest economy in the world and Hubei is economically above the average of the Chinese mainland. The main responsibility for the extent China is suffering could be on the Chinese government, who have been accused of attempting to cover-up the outbreak, until it got too big to ignore. Government incompetency can render the levels of spending useless.

The big question of the hour is how much should we do to help poorer countries?

I’d argue it’s our moral responsibility to do whatever we can to help our fellow humans, whether that be through payment of foreign aid, pooling of resources and helping countries that have been ravaged by disease to get back on their feet. There’s plenty of evidence that suggests we can make a big difference to lives.

Sceptics argue, however, that foreign aid rarely helps and often just lines the pocket of corrupt governments.

Last modified: 24th February 2020

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