health and population

The declining influence of religion

By health and population, Religion

the decling influence of religionThe covid-19 pandemic has exposed how much religion has declined as a major influence in our lives.  In Mediaeval Europe, religion would have been at the centre of the response to the disease. People would have crowded into Church to pray for their loved ones. Priests would have organised special masses for those afflicted. The outbreak would have been blamed on God’s righteous punishment for human sins. There would have been a sense of resignation, inshallah, nothing happens unless God wills it. However, it was OK, those that had not sinned could still get to heaven (as long as they paid priests to get them through purgatory).

Now the attitude is quite different. The disease is understood as a virus that can be overcome. People believe that, in time, medical science will come up with a cure. The churches, temples and mosques are empty. Doctors have said it is not safe to gather together. Few believe that God will look after his flock better than a doctor. This is true of all religions: Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Sikhs and Jews are all foregoing to gather in places of worship. Burials and cremations are perfunctory affairs. Relatives and friends are denied a proper chance to say goodbye to the dead.

Meanwhile archbishops, popes, and imams mouth platitudes to empty churches and mosques, and hope that someone is listening on zoom.

For more read Yuval Noah Harari about the change in human attitudes to disease.

Covid-19 – the grim reaper

By health and population

covid-19 the grim reaperCovid-19 is sweeping the world in the form of a grim reaper, scything the old and chronically ill as it passes. In Memes, Society and Human Evolution identified eight grim reapers that could setback human progress as we reach the environmental limits that Earth can support:  war, revolution, famine, plague, natural disaster, economic malfunction, shortage of raw materials and environmental damage. Plague was conceived as being a less serious threat. I reasoned that, because we now live in such an interconnected world, there is less opportunity for pathogens to develop in isolation and therefore less risk that a virulent pathogen will wipe out large numbers of humans. If a pathogen is too potent it will kill its host before it has the chance to spread. Initially, therefore, a pathogen must allow a fair chance of human survival in order to allow its own propagation. A pathogen which develops over a long time in an isolated community will gradually increase its virulence as the community develops its own immunity. If this pathogen is then released to the world it can be devastating.

But today few communities live in seclusion, so a plague, such as the Black Death, which could kill a huge percentage of the population, is highly unlikely. The worst epidemic in modern times is the 1918/9 Spanish flu outbreak; it had a mortality rate between 1 and 6 %, leaving 17 million to 100million dead. Yet Covid-19, even though the likely death rate is much less, threatens to be much more disruptive. What I hadn’t foreseen was that improved medical technology would create a bottleneck to the passage of the disease.

Hospitals have only so many critical care beds equipped with ventilators. In order that their health care systems aren’t overwhelmed, all ‘advanced’ countries have adopted the strategy of limiting human contact in order to prevent the rapid spread of the disease. This could only be achieved by shutting down much of the service sector of the economy. Pubs, restaurants, hotels, airlines, trains, airports, travel firms and sports bodies have all seen their businesses disappear overnight. In the West the service sector is by far the largest part of the economy. As a result, Covid-19’s long term economic effects are likely to be much more significant than the impact on the nation’s health.

We didn’t have ventilators in 1918; the Spanish flu swept through the population but the nation’s economy was only slightly dented. The UK government is talking of a few months to get over the effects of the disease, but this is based on hope rather than any reality. There are about 4000 critical care beds in England. Figures of 250,000 potential deaths have been banded about. If each patient that died spent 4 days in a critical care bed, the disease would have to be delayed for 250 days – almost 9 months – if critical care capacity is not to be exceeded. The economic disruption of such a delay would be catastrophic.

It seems that grim reapers don’t act independently.  In this case plague may well lead to economic malfunction if the wrong decisions are taken by our government.

Our politicians are hopeless

By health and population

We need our politicians to plan our country’s future. We know that society is aging and that this will create huge problems for our health and social services. Surely the least we could ask of our politicians is to have a plan to deal with this challenge?

Two reports published recently (see Health and Population Articles page) underline the extent of the task ahead.

They show:

  • The number of people over 85 that require 24-hour care will double in the next 2 decades.
  • British women are amongst the least healthy in Europe; they are more likely to suffer diabetes, breast cancer and Alzheimer’s at an early age.
  • Whilst life expectancy is increasing for women, healthy life expectancy remains constant. Women are spending longer living with chronic health conditions

These are just a few of the issues. The NHS and Social Services stumble from crisis to crisis. There is no plan.  Our politicians have no clue what to do and there is no initiative to tackle the problem. We are all going to suffer in the years to come from our leaders’ lack of political foresight.