Time to fix what’s broken

Wherever you are on the spectrum of total acceptance to going nuts, one thing is sure: Life changed beyond recognition. Whatever it will go back to eventually will create a new status quo. I’m positive it will be a good one.

But the sacrifice we embrace or endure right now will mould us into an updated humanity. Repeat action is a great shortcut to habit formation and this may well get us used to virtual everything – from board meetings to yoga classes. Digital transformation has been a ‘priority’ for years. But only now are we seeing widespread efforts to make up for lost time. Organisations used to decision by committee are stepping up their game with surprising agility. Meanwhile, our climate gets a break and our healthcare systems are under review – both for good reasons but only made possible by global crisis. But we must also see the bad. A sheer unbelievable portion of people are out of jobs, some without access to critical infrastructure or ability to meet their daily needs.

Truth is, the impact of the virus has only just begun. At 70,000 deaths to date, we are looking at roughly 0.1% of total deaths in any given year right now. Most of these approximately 50-55 million deaths are caused by chronic diseases. The rough figure globally for deaths due to such illnesses stands at 80%, almost irrespective of social and economic development. That means most of humanity ultimately loses to chronic disease. It’s just that epidemics like this one and less capable healthcare systems accelerate this process considerably.

What this means is that we all have the same core problem, but different timelines. Wealthier countries with better healthcare provision and correspondingly higher life expectancy simply delay the fatality of chronic conditions. But what if we went further than just improving our ways of coping with the impact of disease, and focused on preventing it altogether? Chronic diseases appear at all ages and for all types of reasons, but the main influencing factor is our lifestyle. We all know this, but healthy living has been a latent ‘priority’ in much the same way as digital transformation. It’s wise to change that now. For instance, it is bizarre that in all the communication on the current situation, hardly anyone seems to speak about the importance of a healthy lifestyle in boosting immunity. That’s like highlighting the devastating impact of cavities and the importance of brushing your teeth without giving any mention to the effects of sugar.

Our brains are engineered to prefer focusing on the short term and indulging quick fixes, but this is lopsided. Moderate diet and physical activity are a long term intervention. Whilst not immediately visible, they strengthen our defence against sudden epidemics and predictable lifestyle diseases alike. Good hand hygiene and social distancing are also a form of prevention, but one that’s squarely focused on the short term. No hand sanitizing or quarantining in the world will reduce your risk of stroke, but ditching that junk food habit very well might. This is before we delve into the possibility that our microbiome may actually influence our chances of developing acute and chronic diseases as some emerging research already implicates. Not sure about you, but this is something I’d want to be aware of.

Yes, that means compliance measures focused on keeping people apart should be the tip of the an iceberg of measures taken to recover public health in these trying times and ensure a better outcome the next time. That would require the healthcare to transition from what we refer to as ‘sick care’ to a focus on preventative action. This needs to happen at much greater scale. Much like a wave of fintechs emerged from the GFC, we should expect a drastic increase in digital health propositions focusing on preventative care and wellbeing.

Pulling it all together, there’s many takeaways awaiting us right now (pun very intended.) It’s time for a wholesome and considered approach to enter the way governments, organisations and people like you and I solve seemingly unsurmountable challenges. Our globalised world in the 2020s is far too complex to legitimate myopic problem-solving approaches. Issues like COVID-19 are deeply interconnected with the overall health of our system, exposing the need to understand the bigger picture and overall implications as an interconnected maze. Having courage to unbox big problems and our thinking to address them will give us a fighting chance at transforming our planet into a healthier home for humanity. However tempting it may be to jump at short-term fixes, stopping there would be dangerous. If we are to return to normal anytime soon and prevent similar scenarios in time to come, it’s in our hands to be the change we ought to see, globally.

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