May 2010 be the year when health officials return to the business of alleviating suffering and stop promoting panic. (Don’t miss Nathalie Rothschild’s “Ten Years of Fear” in Spiked!’s Farewell to the Noughties, recounting the hyped-up panics of the ’00s — from the Y2K bug to swine flu.)
May CDC become a force for real public health, not an advocate for the risk-avoidance canard. May the new director, Dr. Frieden, stop favoring pharmaceutical companies’ profit making through expansion of immunization. And may he direct the agency to begin to address legitimate public needs, like sound answers about vaccines and autism, and clear communication about what is — and isn’t — dangerous about obesity.
May WHO officials stop playing with the pandemic threat barometer. May WHO begin demanding that the world’s wealthy countries devote at least the same resources to stopping diarrheal diseases, malaria, and TB as they do to dealing with high-news-value problems like new strains of flu. Diarrheal illness kills as many children in Africa and Asia in any given week as the 2009 swine flu killed Americans in eight months. So does malaria. Direct policy, and money, toward sanitation, pure water free of parasites, adequate treatment of TB, mosquito control, and prevention of other causes of heavy mortality in the developing world — not just flu strains that threaten North America, Europe, and Japan.
May public health professionals lose their obsessions with bad habits. May the public health profession return to the problem of ensuring basic rights — access to sufficient food, clean water, decent housing, good education, a livable wage, and adequate child care — and ease up on its moralistic obsessions with nicotine and overeating (for recent examples of the preoccupation with tobacco, see this article or this one (abstracts here; subscription needed for full articles) in recent issues of the American Journal of Public Health).
May science be what Joanne Manaster does at her incomparable website: looking at the world with wonder, asking without dogmatic preconceptions how it works, and accepting that its irrepressible quirkiness makes it impossible to know the world perfectly. May science not be the crystal-ball-gazing thing whose so-called “scientific” forecasts are really doomsday scenes worthy of the medieval Church — predictions of liquefied icecaps and rising seas, hundreds of millions of deaths in a flu pandemic, or catastrophic plagues sparked by people with engineered smallpox virus. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned about both the environment and disease outbreaks based on sound here-and-now observations; leave the forecasts of Apocalypse to the clergy, who know how to handle dread.
A new year’s wish (from the valedictory exhortation in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America): “More life!”