Blame game politics in a health crisis: Dereliction of duty

di Joe Volpe del 23 March 2020

TORONTO -News coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic is beginning to resemble the sportscasting business of calling a horse race: tell the audience who is in the lead, which horse is in overtake mode and who is crossing the fi nish line first.

In this “race”, there is no finish line in sight. To our collective chagrin, “the evidence of health or infection” is incomplete. Some countries have either not been reporting, not been testing or have been running inadequate tests. Now we’re surprised: “how can this be happening to us?”

Initially referred to as the Chinese disease, then Korean, subsequently Italian, then Iranian, then European is now a full-blown pandemic about to smite the most smug of Hemispheres – The Western. That would be us, both American and Canadian.

There will be plenty of time – hopefully, later – to hold to account the frivolity of political response to the spread of the disease. There should be no acceptable excuse for incomplete testing or reporting. For now, we can only extrapolate from the data made available.

As an aside, the Italians have been providing the most complete and comprehensive. Respectable Medical and Health studies conducted by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in Baltimore USA, consistently place that country as either number one or number two in terms of quality of health care.

In other words, Italy has standards and procedures that should be enviable. That would include the ability and capability to respond to a crisis. Yet, on the weekend, National Health authorities put out a call for 300 additional Medical doctors to serve as “Covid-19 swat team”.

Where will they come from? Italy already boasts four (4) medical doctors per 1,000 inhabitants – roughly 240,000 MDs. There are countries which have a higher ratio but they do not include Canada and the USA, where the ratios are 2.8 and 2.5 doctors per 1,000 inhabitants. Were Canada to have the same proportion of doctors to inhabitants as Italy does, we would require approximately 148,000 doctors. We have about 103,600. The USA is worse off.

Over the last three days, the health systems in Canada and the USA have been stretched to their limit. The rate of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Canada is approaching an incremental of 20% daily. What is now acceptable information is that the illness is very aggressive in its ability to spread… everywhere.

The rate of reporting and testing is improving, and with that data so should our ability to deal with the virus. The USA has, in short order, already surpassed all countries globally in the registration of confirmed cases to jump into third place. Over 75 million Americans are in “lock down”.

The Pharmaceutical Industry is being pressed globally to come forward with mitigating medicines. That will take some time. In the interim caution and inventiveness in dealing with how care is delivered must be the order of the day.

Two other essential ingredients in that process will be the availability of “hospital beds” and accessibility of ventilators for the affl icted. Governments need to turn their attention to measures that will provide both. In Ontario, there are about 2,000 ventilators available, with 1,300 already in use. Italy has ordered 5,000, Germany 15,000.

The USA has a reported 165,000 but may require six times that number if the current rate of confi rmed contagion continues. There are only 5-10 reputable producers of the machine.

Interestingly the Canadian Automobile Parts Association, through its President Flavio Volpe (yes, he’s related), has offered to convert some of it manufacturing expertise and capacity to fill the void. It needs the permission or the backing of government to set aside the intellectual property right of patent holders to begin. That would be the Federal government.

It would not be a new initiative. The Law already allows for “compulsory licencing”, or for reallocation of an “unused” patent. Rather than squander any more time, the federal government should proceed quickly in declaring a state of emergency and enact the enabling legislation, or to act unilaterally with competent manufactures as the sole buyer and distributors of that product for a defined period of time.


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