Two years of pandemic

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By JORGE LUIZ SOUTO MAIOR*

In facing the pandemic, scientific recommendations were limited to practices to reduce contagion and, subsequently, to vaccination

During the COVID-19 pandemic, officially recognized since March 2020 and which is still in full force, there were, on the one hand, those who trusted the recommendations made by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the prevention of contagion, notably, isolation or social distancing, the use of a mask, frequent hand hygiene with soap and water or the application of alcohol gel and the need to submit to vaccines, which, in the same period, were developed to reduce and even elimination of the serious consequences of contamination; and, on the other hand, those who showed disbelief in both prevention measures and vaccination.

WHO recommendations and submission to vaccines were based on responses offered by science to face the pandemic, while the motivations for rejection came from different types of feelings, ranging from the purest egocentrism, passing through the expression of political or ideological militancy, until reaching the point of mere belief.

It is evident that between one posture and another, the one that proved to be more responsible and respectful of human life was the one that was guided by the fulfillment of recommendations with scientific ballast.

Once this necessary premise has been established, it is important to go further in approaching the theme. Put more directly, it is relevant to take a critical approach to science itself, not least because it cannot be presented as a dogma or a sect that must be followed without any questioning or reflection.

Specifically, if the preventive measures, including the vaccines developed, proved to be effective in containing the pandemic, considerably reducing the number of deaths, it is also certain that from the point of view of the need to adopt a horizontal and democratically disseminated lifestyle , in which the promotion of human health, based on the interdependence between immunity and lifestyle (sunbathing, drinking clean water, having access to quality food, etc.), appears as the main concern, and which would also be extremely relevant for the confronting the virus, nothing was recommended by science and this is a symptom of a serious problem that needs to be exposed and, equally, faced.

First, it is worth remembering that, as widely recognized, the contagion generated more serious complications and deaths among people with comorbidities, notably those with the so-called “chronic non-communicable diseases” (NCDs).

These diseases, in the dominant scientific standard, are considered predominantly hereditary and, therefore, inevitable over the years, leaving only drug addiction. However, here too, lifestyle is intimately related to the issue, and it is even possible to speak of a genetic predisposition associated with an inadequate lifestyle.

It so happens that the science on which health systems are based has not been directed, as a priority, to studies on the prevention of these diseases and perhaps there is a reason for this. Is that the pharmaceutical industry profits stratospheric values ​​with the commercialization of the medicines that are consumed periodically by the people who carry these diseases and that already make up 45% of the Brazilian population.

There are countless studies that point to the effectiveness of measures to prevent “chronic non-communicable diseases”, through adequate nutrition with consumption of drinking water and real food (vegetables, vegetables, fruits without pesticides and meat free of contamination), in addition to the elimination or considerable reduction in the consumption of industrialized and ultra-processed food products, hydrogenated oils, trans fats, transgenic foods in general, inflammatory foods, sugars, combined with changes in daily habits, such as the practice of physical exercises, stress reduction , the improvement of sleep quality among others…

All these measures, in addition to being beneficial to the prevention of “chronic non-communicable diseases”, make immunity more efficient, thus serving as a supporting factor in the face of immune responses to aggressive agents in the body.

The point is that the recognition of the essentiality of these measures related to lifestyle, first, would reveal the great social and human inequality that marks our model of society, because, by design, it would have to be recognized that only a small portion of the population would be able to of, on their own account, adhering to what we might call a “disease prevention health plan”. In addition, this model of society presupposes the use of human labor as the driving force for the reproduction of capital and this imposes on those who depend on the sale of their workforce to survive the fulfillment of extensive working hours, provided over several years.

In order to stay active and not run the risk of losing their source of livelihood, the worker is compelled to use medication, especially anti-inflammatories and analgesics, among others. The fact is that the working class survives on medicine to stay active in a life condition that is contrary to human health and this situation is imposed due to the state of need to which the working class is submitted and the use of, ever-growing reserve army of manpower, which has also served to drive the implementation of policies to destroy social compensation (labor and social security rights) that, at the time of the reconstruction of capitalism, were offered to ( to the workers.

Secondly, the widespread adoption of these measures, taken as a State policy, directly interfered with the economic interests of the industry in general and, more specifically, with the food industry, which is also part of agribusiness, not to mention the interests of “ health plans” that, in many cases, do not deal precisely with disease prevention and health maintenance, but with drug “palliativism”, focusing, as a rule, on the symptomatological and non-causal approach of many diseases, to which , consequently, especially the chronicles, form the basis of the business. And don't forget also the enormous commerce, including the advertising segment, which revolves around the diffusion of the American way of life, made famous by the fast food and its gigantic portions of fried foods, ice cream and soft drink refills.

It is important to reflect on the fact that many food industries do not see food as a health promoting agent for consumers and, at the same time, several pharmaceutical industries do not observe that lifestyle plays a preponderant role as a cofactor in the treatment of numerous conditions, associated, for example, the inadequate consumption of ultra-processed foods.

Remember that part of health plans is publicly traded, which pays dividends to its shareholders. Not to mention the science involved with the arms industry, whose object is, directly, the elimination of human lives and also that invested in platform applications, whose target is exploitation.

And the biggest problem is that it will be said that all this that is in force is necessary for society as a whole, without mentioning that this need is only a product of the determinations that constitute the basis of the capitalist society model and not considering, still, the concrete data that this industrialization of food and health is responsible for the destruction of the environment, thus amounting to a death sentence for humanity.

It is also worth remembering that in the specific aspect of fighting the pandemic, the recommendations coming from science were limited to practices to reduce contagion and, subsequently, to vaccination.

It is true that in the emergency situation as the facts happened there was no way to be different, even more so because the alternative (not serious) that was presented (with a huge dose of irresponsibility) was the disregard of the containment measures and the use, instead to the vaccine, of medicines without any evidence of efficacy, which even facilitated the increase in contagion and delayed the vaccination process, thus greatly enhancing the severity of the pandemic.

The scientific knowledge produced on an emergency basis, it is essential to recognize, managed, and in a very short time, to develop vaccines that, so to speak, saved the lives of millions of people around the world.

It turns out that a large part of the people saved and millions of others who were not so lucky were already sick or in poor health, many due to chronic processes that were underdiagnosed or eventually partially treated, also due, in the Brazilian case, to scrapping. structure of the public health system and these facts need to be evaluated because they result, to a large extent, from a serious problem that is the transformation of knowledge into private property.

Science, notably that linked to experiments and high technology, has an owner (with the guise of a patent). It is a science that depends on large investments and that also generates enormous profitability. This science is not an abstract entity that spreads freely in society. It is objectified in the capitalist relations of production and domination and, therefore, is linked to political choices and economic determinations.

Even in public universities, whose commitment should be the production of knowledge to satisfy issues of public interest, thus opposing the merely private objectives aimed at profit and domination, what is seen, not infrequently, is a strategic scrapping these entities, in order to facilitate the insertion of private investment and, with this, reactivate the domination of knowledge by capital, which is enshrined in the mild forms of alliances and partnerships.

The concrete fact is that there would not have been a more propitious time than the pandemic for issues related to improving the population's health, through prevention and changes in lifestyle, to have been recognized as essential and concrete measures to have been implemented. There would not be a more explicit situation to highlight the relevance of public health policies.

However, also in this period, despite the undeniably relevant service provided by science, even vaccination ended up reflecting geopolitical and economic determinations. Vaccination was not universal, horizontal, solidary and effectively free (in the latter case, for countries). Indeed, with the exception of local administrative incompetences, vaccines arrived first in the central countries of capitalism, and in February 2021, almost a year after the pandemic was decreed, 130 countries had still not received vaccines. The UN, even, at that moment, perhaps worried about the advent of new variants of the virus and its spread to central countries, was forced to recognize the need to implement a “world plan” to combat inequality” (https://g1.globo.com/bemestar/vacina/noticia/2021/02/17/130-paises-ainda-nao-tem-vacina-contra-a-covid-19-e-chefe-da-onu-sugere-plano-mundial-de-vacinacao-para-diminuir-desigualdade.ghtml).

And one cannot fail to mention the historical neglect of public and private investments in the prevention of endemic diseases, also referred to as “neglected diseases” (malaria, Chagas disease, sleeping sickness, human African trypanosomiasis, THA, visceral leishmaniasis, lymphatic filariasis, dengue and schistosomiasis), which annually kill from 500 thousand to one million poor people in the peripheral countries of capitalism (https://agencia.fiocruz.br/doen%C3%A7as-negligenciadas).

The problem is that all these fundamental issues for the promotion of health for all people, in all regions of the globe, are outside the horizon of science, since they are contrary to the interests of those who dominate it, it is worth noting that with regard to COVID- 19 science fulfilled its function quickly and relatively efficiently in part because the disease, although it was concretely much more severe for economically vulnerable people and those subjected to various forms of oppression – poor, women, blacks –, it also did not spare the privileged social strata, unlike, for example, chagas disease and several other neglected diseases.

Let's think about it. What was the profit of the laboratories that produced the vaccines during the pandemic period? How much did the States remain submissive to the holders of the knowledge and technology needed to produce the vaccine? What conditions did they have to meet to get the vaccines? How much has the world's population been held hostage to this relationship?

Of course, this is not a reason to oppose vaccination, but it cannot fail to be evaluated, after all, science cannot impose itself as a belief. As an expression of knowledge, it must be convinced by reason and be subjected to rational critical analysis. The necessary learning is that we need to overcome this vicious cycle, in which the science that saves is the science that sickens or kills.

Essentially, it is necessary to break with the private domination of science.

*Jorge Luiz Souto Maior is a professor of labor law at the Faculty of Law at USP. Author, among other books, of Moral damage in employment relationships (Studio editors).

 

Notes


(*) The term science was taken in the present text following the generalization and simplification expressed in the division constructed by the media between those who are against or in favor of “science”, making it clear that the discussion effectively proposed here concerns the manipulation of the scientific argument for the dissemination of undisclosed interests, generating, in this two-way street, a corrosive compromise of the knowledge produced, representative, therefore, of a partial and vitiated science or, even, a false science. The text, in fact, proposes the defense of science, whose validity is inseparable from the commitment to seek the improvement of the human condition, based on the assumption of full equality, thus overcoming the appearances of the mode of production, the division of classes and geopolitical organization, even because political and economic determinations sometimes prevent the implementation of measures attested to be effective by science, as in the case of neglected diseases in countries on the periphery of capital.

(**) Text prepared with the collaboration and technical supervision of Leonardo da Silva.

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