Are we aiming for short-term or long-term health & wellness?
By Penelope A. Domogo, MD
Governments imposed lockdown first in Hubei province in China in January 2020 and followed by the rest of the world. We had ours in the Philippines in mid March. Lockdown was the immediate radical response to halt the spread of covid-19, much like our Igorot indigenous practice of “tengao”, “te-er”, “ubaya”. It is meant to be temporary from a few days to a week or so and in the past it was so. In our Igorot villages, after some days, the disease, whether it was fever or diarrhea, would slow down and finally disappear. Like a good spring, these traditional villages quickly overcame the disease and sprung back to normal. The disease rarely spread to the neighboring villages because of the strict enforcement of lockdown and I think, people were really strong then that there were no lingering carriers. The first time I knew that the disease spread to the neighboring barangays was the typhoid epidemic in the early 1980s that started in barangay Guinaang and spread to barangay Dalican. This was because of the presence of “chono” (mass wedding celebrations) that was characterized by overflowing meat (and the attendant flies) and tapey (rice wine), mass gatherings from far and wide, sleepless nights. Mix these with open toilets in pigpens or open space and you have the recipe for epidemics of food-water borne diseases. The index case (the first identified case) was a carrier who attended a mass wedding in a nearby barangay the month before. But as mentioned earlier, the affected villages would overcome the disease & resume their usual life. Only to have epidemics again. Soon the people learned to connect the dots and they started building sanitary toilets, penned their pigs and piped water to their houses. Since then, there had been no food-water-borne disease outbreak in Bontoc. Because the conditions that breed it are not there anymore.
A dengue fever outbreak in Bontoc came in the heels of the typhoid epidemics. Unlike typhoid which hit the upland barangays, dengue hit mostly central Bontoc and spread to central Sabangan and lower Bauko- places that had warm weather as the dengue virus can’t survive in cold weather. A study of the cases revealed that most came from moneyed families, which is understandable because the dengue virus, like covid-19, likes sugar and all those rich foods that modern society is peddling. So in Bontoc, most of the cases were elementary pupils that came from the private schools, not from the public school. It’s also understandable why cases were clustered in central Bontoc. It is the most populous and most congested area in the municipality. It is a business and educational center that generates a lot of nondegradable waste scattered indiscriminately and that become breeding areas of the dengue mosquito. Water is not free-flowing in a lot of areas so it is collected in open containers. We have the favourable conditions for the virus to thrive. Thankfully, dengue seemingly goes into hibernation after the season. Then there would be a lull in cases for the next one or two years, only to spike again in the 2nd or third year. This is expected because in epidemics, herd immunity is developed protecting the whole community. It’s an observed phenomenon and we thank God for this- not everybody gets sick but the many sick people actually become a cover for the rest of the population. Isn’t that just amazing?! The Department of Health declared a national dengue epidemic in August 6, 2019 so the lull in cases in 2020 is expected. Recovery from the dengue virus confers lifelong immunity. But there are 4 types of the virus so theoretically, one can have dengue fever 4x. Succeeding infections, however, pose the risk of being hemorrhagic and therefore deadly, that’s why I believe that vaccination against dengue fever is risky as it combines all 4 strains. After some years of existence in warm Cordillera, dengue fever was detected in the supposedly cold places of Barlig, Besao, Sagada and Baguio City. Obviously, these places have warmed up and have fulfilled the requirements for the dengue virus to visit. Effect of climate change. And if we don’t address the conditions that breed mosquitoes, we can expect dengue outbreaks in the future. But God being our helper, we can make ourselves and our environment unsuitable for the dengue virus.
Now on top of all these infectious and non-infectious diseases, we have covid. Again we see the same pattern. Those most affected are in cities and town centers and places that have been modernized- places that have the right conditions for breeding any kind of disease and disaster. And what are these conditions? 1. Human congestion, mass housing – shortening the distance between people, less fresh air. 2. Easily accessible, affordable unlimited supply of unhealthy foods 3) inactivity 4) unhealthy bodies. We can overcome covid if these conditions are reversed. Lockdown, masks and face shields may protect us in the short term from covid but then covid is not the only disease. If you have been updated about the deaths in your area, you will observe that high blood pressure, diabetes and their complications and cancers have consistently been the leading causes of death. Even if these patients were tested positive for covid, we know that the underlying cause of most deaths is not covid. Lockdown, face masks and face shield will not prevent these chronic lifestyle diseases. How about the covid vaccine? How long will it offer protection from covid? And how reliable? How about protection from the more common deadly diseases like hypertension and diabetes and cancer? Are we going to invest our resources – energy, time and money- in short-term interventions for covid? Or do we invest in long-term safety and wellness?
Furthermore, how come people have congregated so much in cities? How come junk food is 100x more accessible and affordable than naturally-grown foods? How come people are not walking as much as health and wellness require? How come modern society only recognizes western medical technologies and treatment modalities as the only or the best wellness and healing technologies and modalities in this diverse world? It’s the second week of Lent now. Time for honest introspection – are we part of the problem or are we part of the solution?***
“For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” James 2:26