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Wellness Corner - The Paucity of Leadership - April 2016


Wellness Corner - April 2016
The Paucity of Leadership

By Gary Pace, MD 

Actually, these are pretty astounding times we live in. I am reeling from the sheer audacity of our political and corporate leaderships’ consistent prioritization of politics and profit over human health.

As I write this, I am reading “A Reckless Investigation in the House,” (Press Democrat, February 22, 2016) about Congress pursuing investigations into Planned Parenthood after multiple courts and congressional committees have found no wrong-doing. Planned Parenthood is a major provider of primary care and contraception in this country, especially in areas where there are few other providers.

My direct experience as a doctor is that many formerly uninsured people now have care due to the Affordable Care Act. Although some people have seen insurance prices go up, overall we recognize a huge benefit for the community at large. Surprisingly, nearly half of all states are refusing to accept Federal funds to expand Medicaid. They are so locked into the politics of ‘Obamacare’ that they are willing to leave nearly 4.3 million of their own people uninsured. 

As has been heavily reported, the drinking water supply in Flint, Michigan was contaminated by lead due to some cost-saving measures enacted by city managers. Even when the threats to health were recognized, no action was taken for months.

Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, one of the largest drug-manufacturing corporations in the world, aims to buy an Irish drug company for an estimated $155 billion in order to relocate their headquarters and avoid paying US taxes. A major reason put forth by the pharmaceutical companies for high drug prices in the US is the need for research and development. A recent study by Reuters found that in the top 20 drugs sold, US retail prices were on average 3 times that of those in Britain. When the company leaves town, will the prices go down?

One of the most outrageous recent pharmaceutical exposes had to do with Turing Pharmaceuticals which bought the rights to an old drug used by some cancer and AIDS patients and then raised the price from $13 to $750 per pill. 

Climate change will almost certainly become the most complex and devastating health challenge for much of the world’s population in the coming years. Drought, infectious diseases (like Zika), severe weather events, and food insecurity are only a hint of what may be to come.

Volkswagen recently got caught falsifying records about emissions in their diesel cars – advertised for years as a very green solution for transportation. They were found to have knowingly misled the public, leading to illegal levels of toxic emissions. 

Probably the biggest scandal of all is the currently unfolding expose of Exxon’s scientific recognition of climate change back in the 1980s. Bill McKibben, author and environmentalist, reports that investigations by the LA Times show that Exxon’s scientists and management knew and accepted the science behind the link between burning fossil fuels, carbon release, and climate instability, as early as 1980. Exxon even made business decisions based on this information (raising drilling platforms to prepare for rising seas, leasing in the Arctic for future drilling rights as warming makes previously inaccessible sites available).

Despite this understanding, Exxon proceeded to do what it could to confuse the national discussion about climate change and has been instrumental in funding climate deniers and gumming up the political process.

Now comes the clincher. Climate scientists agree that more reserves of fossil fuels have been identified that can ever be burned if we hope to keep the climate in recognizable ranges. Yet Exxon continues to spend $4 million a day looking for new sources of hydrocarbons.

Think about the implications about this. If even a portion of that money was going into creating infrastructure in our country and working towards renewables, we could be well on the way to meeting the goals of limiting carbon emissions that were put forth at the recent climate conference. Yet this company, one of the richest in the history of the world, has spent the last 25 years putting confusing messages into the public, leading to lost opportunities, raising temperatures, and untold misery for millions of people.

Where is the leadership to put the health of people and future generations over profits?