photo Shealah Craighead/CC

photo Shealah Craighead/CC   (Click to enlarge: opens in new window)

Jon Dale, secretary, Unite union Nottinghamshire NHS Branch (personal capacity)

More people in the US died from Covid-19 in three months than in nine years of the US armed forces’ Vietnam War. The US private healthcare system has been shockingly exposed.

So has the inequality divide condemning millions in the US to poverty and overcrowded housing, sometimes even without running water. Lack of sick pay forces workers to stay at work, even when ill.

Donald Trump is trying to turn attention from this complete system failure. He fosters conspiracy theories about what he calls “the Chinese virus.” Normally so quick to boast, his tweets stay silent about his government’s previous cuts to public health spending.

In November 2018, the American Journal of Public Health published a series of articles marking the centenary of the so-called ‘Spanish’ flu pandemic. Between 30 million and 100 million are estimated to have died – the equivalent of 120-400 million of today’s global population.

The editors wrote: “We hope that stressing the lessons we have learned and those that we are still attempting to learn can help us avoid that cycle, so that the horrors of 1918 will never be repeated.” But “substantial public health funding cuts threaten pandemic readiness.

“Congress and the current administration have cut $1.35 billion from the Prevention and Public Health Fund over the next ten years, including a 12% budget cut for the Centers for Disease Control, forcing the CDC to reduce its public health efforts in some of the world’s hotspots for emerging infectious disease, including China, Pakistan, Haiti, Rwanda, and Congo.

“These cuts have prompted global health organisations to caution that ‘critical momentum will be lost if epidemic prevention funding is reduced, leaving the world unprepared for the next outbreak.’ Tom Frieden, former director of the CDC, warned that ‘like terrorism,’ epidemic disease cannot be fought ‘just within our borders. You’ve got to fight epidemic diseases where they emerge.’

“He emphasised that these cuts mean [disease] surveillance systems will die, so we won’t know if something happens. The lab networks won’t be built, so if something happens, we won’t know what it is. [The US] can’t be safe if the world isn’t safe.”

In less than 18 months, these predictions have been borne out, at terrible cost to humanity across the world. Trump ignored these warnings, just as the Tories and New Labour before them downplayed the threat of pandemics, cutting back on essential preparation in favour of short-term profit-seeking.