According to our friends at Wikipedia “a Syndemic or synergistic epidemic is the aggregation of two or more concurrent or sequential epidemics or disease clusters in a population with biological interactions, which exacerbates the prognosis and burden of disease”. The term was developed by Prof. Merrill Singer in the mid 1990’s. it was recently bought to my attention by the author and lecturer Ben Brown.
Now let’s imagine we introduce a virulent viral pathogen into a sickly, ageing population, the multiple co morbidities would turn the disease into something which may kill well in excess of 100,000 people and cripple the country for months on end. Sound at all familiar??
Don’t expect either the Government or anyone connected to the Health Service in the UK to start talking Syndemic any time soon as this would mean acknowledging the monumental failure in the management of the country’s health policy.
A brief look at some of the latest statistics tell us all we need to know:
Obesity – NHS figures published May 2020 (for England) – 67% of men and 60% 0f women are either obese or overweight. 20% of year 6 children (aged 10 – 11) are obese. The “best guess” estimate for the UK is that 30 % or 22 million people are obese.
Diabetes – Even the 2015 stats from Diabetes UK show that at least 3.5 million people have diabetes with at least an extra ½ million having the condition as yet undiagnosed. The vast majority of these cases are type 2.
Respiratory Illness – The British Lung Foundation inform us that “surveys of the general population suggest that approximately 12.7 million people in the UK have a history of asthma, COPD, or other long standing respiratory illness”
Cancer - Cancer Research UK statistics show 367,167 new cases of cancer 2015 – 2017 and 166,533 deaths 2016 – 2018 with 38% of cases being preventable (2015)
Heart/Circulatory disease – The British Heart Foundation state that a quarter of all deaths in the UK (over 160,000 deaths each year or an average of 450 per day) are due to heart or circulatory issues.
Dementia – Alzheimer’s Research UK tell us there are 850,000 people with dementia in the UK and that 1 in 3 people born in the UK this year will develop dementia in their lifetime.
In my opinion it is nothing short of a National disgrace that the only health advice we hear from all politicians is the more and more incessant mantra of vaccines, social distancing, hand washing and mask wearing. Important as these things maybe if we addressed the “elephant in the room” of the underlying health decline each individual would be much better placed to possibly avoid serious illness or even death.
I am fully aware that susceptibility to the virus does come with a large genetic component and that some young, very fit people have lost their lives but on average, improve systemic and particularly immune health and you are on the way to a better outcome.
The normal total reliance on pharmaceuticals is also worrying, there has finally been an official confirmation that vitamin D deficiency may have an effect on immune health but, par for the course, the likes of vitamin C & A, Zinc, Selenium, probiotics et al have all been ignored despite the amount of research showing the potential benefits.
However, before laying the total blame at the door of the authorities there is another problem, many, dare I say a majority, of people who simply don’t care about taking pre-emptive action for the sake of their long term health and as long as there is a perception that the NHS will get them out of any hole which they dig for themselves with a plethora of pharmaceuticals they will accept illness, infirmity and living in a disease state for the last 10 or 20 years of their lives as totally “normal”.
As I have said on many occasions “normal” may be a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there!!
Outside of this (large) group there are those who do care sufficiently about their health and are prepared to invest some money in their future health of that of their loved ones. Most people however need to rely on the mass media and conventional health outlets for their information which at best is often confusing and often simply plain wrong.
For those of us with a degree of knowledge of the benefits of eating “real” food, exercise/activity, mindfulness and the small lifestyle tweaks that can prove so beneficial there is a real opportunity to reach out and help those who want to be helped.
Looking beyond the current crisis, SARS-CoV-2 is now among us and will remain to be so. Arguably the more man destroys natural habitats the greater the likelihood of new Zoonotic diseases being spread among populations becomes and we still have all of the other chronic diseases of the 20th and 21st centuries to protect ourselves against.
Given previous track records Governments are effectively clueless, the NHS is great at trauma care and “sticking you back together again” but is historically very poor at anything preventative. We therefore are perfectly placed to help people become the CEO’s of their own health and guide them to a future where it is accepted to remain robust, healthy, vibrant and cognitively alert into our 70’s 80’s and beyond.
Paul K Ehren