So much time running after time that when you have some you do not know what to do with it. So many kilometres travelled, so many countries, so many conversations, that when the world stops, you do not know how to start putting ideas in order. I suppose many feel the same, a blockage that paralyses you during hours, asking ourselves what is happening, looking out from the window, seeing the same buildings, plants, hanging clothes at the other side of the internal patio.
I read and reread news. A new jargon is taking possession of the media space, words that will be with us during weeks, months and maybe years: dystopia, Orwellian, confinement, alarm and much warlike terminology (war, battle, heroes, win…). The “know-it-all people”, the social-media debaters, the “all-ologists” live a communication orgy. If before they could talk about anything without living it (the Syria war, the Brexit, the refugees’ crisis, the Panama papers…), now that they are part of the news, the day is not long enough to vomit and opine about what should be done, what is happening, and what is to come. I feel that it is the “water cure”, the mythical and savage torture method: we are at the point where we cannot swallow any more data, headlines, messages, WhatsApp messages, videos. They have saturated us.
As for myself, on the other hand, it took me a week to write these notes from my watchtower, a seventh floor without lift (now it does not matter much) in the old Poble Sec neighbourhood of Barcelona. The fever did not help, nor did the information overload. It is difficult to draw any conclusion in this surreal, historic, dramatic and absolutely fascinating moment we are living. Used to movement, see before opining, it is as if I was living in a theoretical world, my worst nightmare, the dictatorship of the screen versus the freedom of oxygen.
For those of us that have been taught to think with a critical mind, this coronavirus crisis is the paradigm of questioning and doubt. For those of us who work in the ambit of healthcare around the planet, it is the essence of contradiction: I have seen so many avoidable deaths, that now that countries are closing, I cannot help to feel questioned as a human being and to ask myself what has happened now to have the world paralysed?
In the great majority of countries in which I lived and worked in public health projects (Angola, El Salvador, Mozambique…), the population dies to a large degree of contagious diseases: AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, dengue, zika, chagas, cholera and other diarrhoea and respiratory diseases which have not had the fortune of being baptised. The public health programs have made efforts during decades to control, avoid and minimise them, but they have always been the bastard daughters of politics, those who are recognised late, that are excluded from testaments, to whom alms are given and who are never considered part of the family. These diseases have camped and are camping at their ease, crossing frontiers, all but one: the one which, to this day, divided the poor from the rich.
The modern developed world felt like territory free from contagion. Here we have died, millions, of other things. And the strangest thing, we do it consciously, I would even say with a certain bravado and with all the data at our disposal to avoid it: we kill ourselves by smoking, we kill ourselves by running on avenues loaded with heavy metals, we kill ourselves by eating rubbish, we kill ourselves taking drugs, we kill ourselves of a thousand cancers caused by our own society, we kill ourselves manufacturing asbestos, etc.
Now, in the era of real-time monitoring of everything, in the era of “reality shows”, we have put a tag to the virus. We have geo-referenced it, we have given it a name, we have characterised it, we follow it around the globe, we know where it is heading, how it behaves, how it kills, who it kills, we strive to obtain a vaccine, we study how it will live in different temperatures… Covid-19 has become the archetype of death, the western world now has a common enemy, an act of faith occurs, we believe in its existence and to detain it everything is justified.
The deaths are real. The data are real. Also real is the superhuman effort of those who are trying and succeed in saving lives. Yet until a couple of weeks ago, rather few people remembered them unless it was to reduce their salaries. What’s more, and I think I am not wrong, they were considered somehow as “losers”, ill-paid civil servants, the antithesis of the model of the successful man, the entrepreneur, the human being of the 21st century. They were converted into “losers” by this selfish and individualist system. We committed the most despotic of all errors, denigrate those that give us life, that save our lives. In the post-modern era, in the dictatorship of technology, machines were the ones that were going to cure us. Who was saying with pride “I want to be a nurse”? It was better to be a “gamer”, an “influencer”, a “youtuber”…
Over the last decade I was fortunate enough to know workers, men and women, of the health sector around the globe. I have seen them cross the Amazon to carry out malaria tests, in the middle of the savannah attending birth-giving in precarious conditions, and here too, in Sabadell (Barcelona) in insufficient numbers in corridors full of patients waiting during late night hours. I have seen them in the Saharawi desert producing medicines, I have seen them in Burkina attending patients in health dispensaries which would not even be considered fit to be toilets in other parts of the planet. All of them had a light in their eyes, a pride that money does not procure, nor does the status, the passport or the name. It is the pride of knowing how to do something that saves lives.
These workers have a common enemy. It is not the coronavirus, nor other yet to come viruses. Their enemy is our forgetfulness, our amnesia. Now that the presidents and low-rate politicians on duty call them heroes, the same ones who have cut investment in healthcare here and all over the world, the same ones who promoted private health services only the rich can afford, we cannot permit that in two months these workers fall back into oblivion.
The moment will come when we will have to make decisions, to vote, to go to demonstrations, to choose if we pay a private healthcare insurance or not. The moment will come when we hear again in the media that public healthcare is unsustainable and, worse even, to hear that at the family table or at the counter of any bar. The time will come in which maybe we realise that we have to cheer and applaud on the balconies to thank that nurse (call her Soraya, who exists and who is at her station) working in the border between Mozambique and Tanzania to provide health to her kindred and who, at the end of the day, is fighting for us, in the same manner our healthcare workers fight today to contain this virus, and with their struggle will save hundreds of thousands of people in the whole planet.
The moment will come when we leave behind once for all our mental frontiers and our ethnocentrism and we finally understand what it means to be human, to struggle to be healthy, to live in a healthy world. And the moment will come, and I hope it won’t be too long, when at last we put limits to the vampires who put their dirty hands in our health systems and we build global laws that shield this gift we have as human-beings, the gift of healing each other without asking for money in exchange. Yes, this is the most divine thing we have, and without doubt the most diabolical, to put a price on life.
International Relations Coordinator
Translate by: Frederique Vilter and Francesc Alvarez