Find yourself hyper-attuned to people coughing next to you on the streetcar? Washing your hands with more vigour than you're used to? Yes, the SARS panic has reintroduced us to infectious diseases and all the weird emotions that go along with them.
But really, when it comes to epidemics, there are much more widespread ones to worry about: cancer, heart disease, asthma, car accidents. Yet because they aren't contagious -- and no one takes political responsibility for them -- there's little mobilization to stamp them out. This despite the fact that they're almost all preventable and are by-products of pollution, stress, bad food, lack of self-care instruction and unsafe urban design.
With every passing year I'm more convinced that the taxes I pay into the health care system are being uniwisely spent. And I wonder why governments don't use laws and levers of taxation to discourage companies that profit from health-destroying addictions.
While public debate is consumed by the need to funnel more cash into ministries of health, we never see health ministers challenging their colleagues in the ministries of agriculture, education and transportation to push policies that actually prevent the vast unnecessary suffering we see all around us.what the experts say
"For the last 10 years we've had a provincial and federal government that have not recognized the connection between social determinants (income, housing, food quality, environment) and our health. The threat of economic impacts as a result of environmental regulations doesn't take into account the true health costs that may be attributed to pollution."
RUTH GRIER, former minister of the environment and minister of health from 1990 to 1995, co-chair of the environmental and occupational working group of the Toronto Cancer Prevention Coalition
"Health care incineration is a large producer of dioxins and mercury; health care, ironically, may be something that is harming our health as it tries to help. We would like to see a shift of focus to a broader health system. It's not a new concept that a cleaner environment, less poverty and income inequality and primary prevention like vaccinations are all a part of improving our health."
KAPIL KHATTER, MD, executive director, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment
"Governments have trouble implementing prevention programs even though everybody knows it would be a good idea, because it takes 20 to 25 years to see a change. Politicians with four- to five-year mandates want to see results in that time frame. One reason medical costs are so high has to do with high-tech approaches that can be patented and profited from. High-tech testing, imaging and genetic systems are all money makers. It's extremely difficult to fund research in holistic medicine, because the interventions are difficult to patent or own."
MARGARET ANNE MCHUGH, executive director, Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors
"The Ontario Medical Association has been front and centre on the smog issue. We made a whole series of recommendations to Justice O'Connor about Walkerton, and he basically adopted them. There's a huge amount of preventive care being done by family doctors that's not being recorded. The fact is that people do get sick and they have to be treated, and we are the experts. We have to come to grips as a society with what we mean when we discuss the term "medical necessity." If we decide it's OK to wait two years for a hip replacement, that's a lot less expensive than if we decide the pain and disability warrant only a three-month wait."
ELLIOT HALPARIN, MD, president of the OMA
"If we continue allowing patients to turn chronic, long-standing problems into acute problems, then the system will continue along the track it's on. Chiropractic has a role to play. The majority of complaints brought to medical offices are neuromusculoskeletal. If patients were being diverted and gatekeeping appropriately managed, we would see a reduction in health care dollars. The system would stop using expensive procedures for conditions that could be very effectively managed by chiropractic."
STAN GORCHYNSKI, chiropractor, second vice-president, Canadian Chiropractic Association
"The point is to have a precautionary and preventive philosophical commitment. There are 23,000 commercial chemicals registered in Canada, so you can't do this chemical by chemical. Sustainable agriculture and renewable energy and co-generation would greatly reduce contaminants.'
JULIA LANGER, director, international conservation, World Wildlife Fund Canada