America Unprepared To Deal With A Pandemic

By Paolo von Schirach

WASHINGTON – For very understandable reasons, millions of Americans are now focused on the progress of the Wuhan coronavirus epidemic and on any assessments/prognostications about its virulence and ability to expand in a significant way beyond China.

Low threat

As of now, nothing much has happened in the US. The only known cases of coronavirus are related to very few individuals who contracted the disease while in Wuhan. In one case, the husband of a woman who got infected while visiting China got it from her after she returned. Not surprising.

So, no reason for panic, it seems.

Bad practices when it comes to basic hospital hygiene

True. for the moment at least, we are not facing any coronavirus emergency, here in the US. However, as some noted experts in epidemics have indicated, this potential crisis should be a wake up call to face the reality of the grossly inadequate prevention practices that prevail in most American hospitals.

When it comes to basic hygiene, most US health facilities do not follow elementary precautions, and so hospitals have become the breeding ground for viruses and deadly bacteria. It may sound crazy, but, according to the data, about 70,000 Americans die every year because of diseases contracted while in the hospital. And this –let me stress– occurs under “normal” circumstances, without the pressure and confusion caused by a sudden pandemic.

Tragic but preventable

Think of that. This is tragic. But almost completely preventable, assuming the adoption of and compliance with basic prevention and safety protocols. I have no idea as to why health authorities, hospital managers and other senior people in charge of medical care in America are not doing much to reverse this awful state of affairs.

This is not rocket science. This is about making sure that, while in the hospital, patients are properly isolated, so that they will not communicate potentially deadly pathogens to medical personnel and other patients. This is rather elementary. And yet, somehow, it is not done –at least not done on the scale that would be necessary.

For sure, adopting known best practices can be onerous, expensive, and time consuming. You have to create special “airtight” facilities within hospitals. You have to make sure that all relevant health care workers wear protective suites, masks, goggles, and what not, all the time. Yes, this is onerous; but it is the only way we know to prevent the spreading of pathogens within hospitals. It is a sad irony that patients may be and are indeed killed by diseases contracted in the place they went to in the hope and expectation to be healed.

We focus on Wuhan coronavirus, but we ignore basic protocols

So, here is the thing. For the time being, here in America no real threat from the mysterious Wuhan coronavirus, even though the spread of this novel disease is continuing, and therefore we should stay on the alert. This is relatively good news.

However, the ongoing and well documented tragedy of tens of thousands of Americans dying unnecessarily, year after year, because of carelessness and lack of proper hygiene in hospitals across America is a scandal that is essentially ignored.

We are unprepared for a major outbreak

Quite clearly, assuming that nothing or just a little will be done to improve the basic prevention/hygiene conditions within our hospitals, should we face a real health emergency like a virulent pandemic, we would be in real trouble.

Lacking adequate isolation facilities, overwhelmed “dirty” hospitals would become places of contagion, rather than cure. I really hope that all those in charge note all this and start taking action.

Given the state of most of our hospitals, we are not prepared to face a pandemic. Our national disease control policy cannot be just the hope of being lucky.

Paolo von Schirach is the Editor of the Schirach Report He is also the President of the Global Policy Institute, a Washington DC think tank, and Chair of Political Science and International Relations at Bay Atlantic University, also in Washington, DC.