Sunday, September 16, 2007

Security and Health for the New Year

Yesterday I was in Penn Station, New York, waiting for a train back to Boston. As I walked into the Amtrak waiting area there was a man laying on the ground in the middle of the station. People looked at him and stood around. He was breathing and most people assumed he was drunk or faking it. But in the post 9/11 world in NYC, one obviously thinks about whether a suspicious man in Penn station is a terrorist threat. After about 5 minutes, an Amtrak official saw the guy and tried to get an officer. Five minutes later, some soldiers came over with all their guns, and said they would get "an officer". They walked away and the Amtrak official came back, radioing and calling on his phone for a police offer. (Neither the soldiers, police, or Amtrak officials appeared to be operating on the same frequency.) All in all, it took about 25 minutes to get a police officer into the middle of Penn Station. They finally got an ambulance, who gave the guy a sternal rub and got him to stand up....so it turned out he was drugged up.

But, 6 years after 9/11 we still don't have high enough security to instantly address any threat. This week, I also learned of a friend who accidentally took mace on a plane.... twice. I personally took might pocket knife on a plane a few years ago (by accident). My point is that unless we have an Orwellian government we will never be totally secure from terrorism. So why should we as citizens have an almost one track mind when thinking about the direction of our country? I am not saying that we should not continue security and try and prevent terrorism. I am saying that we need to think broader about what we can really do to make happy lives for ourselves, our families, our country, and our world.

What can we do that will have greater effects our lives than just focusing on security from terrorism?

Recently my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was fortunate, not only because it was found early, but because she lives in a rich country with skilled physicians and an insurance company who didn't deny her life-saving surgery. Cancer is one of the things that WE KNOW can affect our lives. Along with heart disease, and infectious diseases in the developing world, cancer is one of things that is ACTUALLY likely to affect our lives.

We know the root causes of early morbidity and mortality: smoking, poor nutrition, lack of activity in the developed world and lack of sanitation and infrastructure in the developing world. However, the real root cause of many of these factors is social inequality and poverty.

Lack of adequate health insurance in our country is such an important issue that the American Cancer Society has devoted much of its resources around the issue. Around the world access to care is an even bigger issue, but poverty confounds all these factors and causes millions of children and adults to live lives of suffering.

So instead of focusing all of our energy this year and trying to protect us from a terrorist, why not protect us from things that are much more likely to happen? Why not focus on promoting access to health care? Why not focus on providing proper nutrition and public health around our country and the world? Why not focus on reducing poverty and social inequalities?

And what do you think is the root cause of violence and terrorism? What caused the World Wars? What leads people to shoot people on the streets of our cities? Poverty and inequalities.

By fighting a new war against poverty and social inequalities we can prevent the most common things that may hurt us (disease) and the less likely (terrorism).

L'Shana Tova for a safe, happy, and healthy new year.
Let us all Be Active in fighting for a better world.
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