By: Mary Croy
One of the lasting lessons of the COVID 19 pandemic should be the importance of public health infrastructure. The disastrous response by the federal government and most state and local governments should result in a demand for robust public health programs on all levels.
Lessons can be drawn from the past. Before the age of digital information, there were examples of quick and aggressive responses to public health crises. Right in our own backyard, Milwaukee’s Socialist government helped mitigate the disaster of Spanish flu and built a public health system which made it one of the healthiest cities in the U.S. by the 1930s. This was done by strong leadership and standing up to corrupt local politicians that put cronyism before concern for the common good. Socialists fought for better health care and laid the foundation with clinics, government hospitals for those unable to pay and services such as visiting nurses for mothers and their children.
My family was the beneficiary with a visiting nurse making free wellness checks when I was a baby. My mom told me about this visit and she considered it both an important and helpful part of her life as a new parent and a matter of the fact thing. Something necessary and what a government should and can do.
Let’s head east for a moment. In 1947, after a businessman was diagnosed with smallpox after a trip to Mexico, New York City leaped into action and more than six million people were vaccinated within a month.
Over the years these services have eroded, and we’ve paid the price. Milwaukee County Hospital used to be public and cared for the poor. It was privatized in 1995, as the infrastructure of public health hospitals, clinics and services crumbled under the pressures of austerity and neoliberalism. We’ve lost the ability at rapid response that was shown in New York City in the 1940s. We’ve lost the vision that “sewer socialists” had a century ago when they laid the foundations for a robust public healthcare system that can serve all, regardless of income.
What will socialist heath care look like? It will go beyond being reactive. By taking the profit motive out of the mix, prevention will move to the front as we can prepare for problems – big problems like pandemics and the smaller scale but important tasks of helping all citizens with their needs: from vaccination to nutrition to medical treatment. We can take the lead from other socialist countries, such as Cuba, which has built an excellent public health system and an outstanding medical education system.
We can also learn from Viet Nam, which, despite having almost 100 million people, has had only 35 deaths from COVID – 19 as of the writing of this article. Viet Nam produces its own protective equipment, takes aggressive measures to halt the spread of the virus and supports those in lockdown with boxes of food.
We might even take a page from China, which had a very successful “barefoot doctors” program that trained many young people, mostly women, to go into remote areas and give basic medical care and vaccinations. This had the added benefit of giving people from poorer communities a quality education and making them a vital part of the country’s development.
If we can learn from success stories from our own history and countries around the world, we can rebuild our failing healthcare system. But this will take getting rid of current for-profit system, which enriches the few while endangering and ruining the lives of the many. It’s time to leave behind the barbaric for profit health system which has killed so many. It’s time for Medicare for All and rebuilding our entire system so that public institutions become the cornerstone of a modern, humane country.