COVID-19: Pandemic calm continues but global health is threatenedApr 4, 2022
Good news continues about the pandemic for Colorado. Under a new reporting protocol, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment lists 84 people in the hospital with confirmed COVID-19 for the week of March 29. This is one of the lowest counts across the pandemic. Test positivity has also trended down. The main problem with good news—knowing that it will eventually be interrupted. Note, if eligible, you can now receive that fourth shot.
Leaving the recent good news about the pandemic, there are too many other worries. The COVID-19 pandemic and now the Ukraine conflict have reminded us of the global health implications of our tightly connected world. Let’s start with the global food supply. Together, Russia and Ukraine produce more than one-fourth of the world’s wheat with exports that are critical to many countries. Some countries in Africa are highly dependent on wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine, including Egypt and Kenya; Bangladesh, Iran, and Turkey are similarly dependent. Europe will be affected by bans on agricultural products from Russia as well. The ripple effects of Russia’s war on Ukraine throughout the world’s food supply are ominous and supply cannot adjust to demand with sufficient rapidity. Food insecurity is on the rise.
And let’s worry about the threats to the world’s energy supply as well. Russia draws influence from the flow of fuels throughout the world and particularly to Europe. Russia fuels Europe, sending half of its crude oil and 75% of its natural gas to European countries. Germany is particularly dependent on Russian fossil fuels, receiving 55% of its natural gas from Russia. That dependence would have worsened with the now-canceled Nord Stream 2 pipeline for natural gas. With diminished use of Russian fuels, energy prices are rising globally with damaging consequences for economies. Rising fuel costs are affecting the prices of goods. The burden of these economic strains falls inequitably on nations and people. The energy shocks, seemingly without immediate resolution, come when we should be making a rapid transition to sustainable energy sources, but are only getting started. The need to reduce Russia’s unfortunate clout coming from its energy resources is obvious.
There might be some good news for Ethiopia’s Tigray region, which has been cut off from humanitarian aid for 100 days. Abiy Ahmed’s Ethiopian government relented its blockade of the region and allowed an aid convoy to enter. These two senseless conflicts—Tigray and Ukraine—kill soldiers and civilians, both directly and indirectly as their consequences cascade throughout the world. To what end?
In 1969, Les McCann (pianist) and Eddie Harris (saxophonist) released a classic album—Swiss Movement. The lyrics from the first rollicking track, “Compared to What,” written about the Vietnam War work well now:
The President, he's got his war
Folks don't know just what it's for
Nobody gives us rhyme or reason
Have one doubt, they call it treason
I just finished the 2021 Pulitzer Prize winning novel, The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich. She is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa Indians and the cousin of Spero Manson, the director of the school’s Centers for American Indian and Alaska Native Health (CAIANH). The Night Watchman is remarkably written, intertwining stories that speak to the resilience of American Indians in the 1950s as they faced economic threats, racism, and deaf bureaucracies. The story brings generations to life and builds on the spirits of the tribe. My next read will be her latest—The Sentence—that brings in the global pandemic.
I recommend joining one of the many events this week for National Public Health Week (NPHW). Choose from events sponsored by the American Public Health Association, Colorado Public Health Association, ColoradoSPH, and our student council groups across our three campuses. See our full schedule of NPHW events on the school’s online calendar.
Keep enjoying the COVID lull and participate in National Public Health Week.
Jonathan Samet, MD, MS
Dean, Colorado School of Public Health