There are good things that we can say about the healthcare system. There are things that can be improved. That goes without saying. But it is easy to point out what is not working. It is easy to complain. In the process of complaining we think that we can do better. We think that we can surpass the achievements of the people running the system. Often that is a conclusion that is drawn from a point of under-analysis. We have not really been in the shoes of these people whom we wish to replace. We have not considered all the variables, just the ones that we can see. History and success stories tell us that no working system has been built on a single perspective. We would do well to learn from history, because it is embarrassing and regrettable to repeat its mistakes.
Healthcare is a system that is composed of many components. Broadly speaking, we can talk about preventive healthcare, curative healthcare and support industries such as health financing and the supply chain. Our aim is of course to have a system that can satisfy the needs of the population. If we oversimplified that aim, it would be that if you get sick you should be able to go to a hospital and get treated. It might look like a very small goal but that makes it achievable. In the context of it being part of a system then it isn’t a small goal at all. Systems are complex things and just getting a system to work is worth celebrating.
For one to get to a hospital and be treated we must consider a few things. One, the hospital is not far away. Two, the hospital is well equipped and the appropriate staff are present. Three, the treatment offered is affordable. Now you see why a simple goal in a system is not so simple. Of all the factors mentioned, some are within the control of the patient. Some are not. Making that distinction will be helpful for us. A patient might not be able to control how far the hospital is and its capacity to treat them. The prices charged are also not soo much in the hands of the patient as they are in the hands of market forces. We can lobby for more hospitals to be built and that they be better equipped. We can have conversations that hopefully result in policies on fair market practices so that people are not exploited.
Such conversations usually center around making things better. We have to be careful to make sure we don’t tear down a system that is at least doing something. It would be better to improve on it a bit at a time than to start from scratch because that is not easy. There will be chaos, confusion and a high possibility of ending up with something worse than what was there already. That happens a lot. Some people think that their parents did a bad job at parenting until they become parents themselves. Then they realize that parenting is not easy.
It is not wrong to want things to be better. A system that does not constantly improve itself is doomed to fail. Our lives have become better because we have an innate need to make life more pleasant. A lot of inventions that we enjoy today arose because someone wanted to make life better. For healthcare, things can be a lot better if we start by improving the things that we can control. These factors are within reach and so they can be rapidly improved. The factors beyond our reach might take time to change. We don’t want to wait around doing nothing but complaining because that builds resentment. And pent-up resentment makes villains. Society does not thrive on villainy.
One of those factors of health within our reach is health financing. We have seen enough of the world to know that tragedy meets us or the people we care about. It doesn’t know to time its visits well. The best we can do is prepare in advance. The idea of pooling of resources so that those who get sick can afford treatment is a good one. The idea of saving some money for any crisis that might come up in future is wise. We should think of ways of making it work. It will make the tragedies more palatable when they do come.
The other factor is actually ourselves. We can choose to reduce our chances of getting sick. It’s a much better deal than getting sick. Sickness can get in the way of a lot of things in this life. It makes things that are essential for us to do undoable. It makes things that look trivial like having fun inaccessible as well. So staying healthy is more beneficial.
What immediately comes to mind is that living healthy gets in the way of having fun. It’s debatable. I mean, we are humans. We are creative. We can still find ways of making healthy living fun. Indeed, some people already have. We have chefs who make healthy meals very tasty. We don’t have to all order from them but at least they show that it is possible.
A bigger question to consider is what is the alternative? What is the alternative to living a healthy lifestyle? A long life of pains, taking medications, having to give up the guilty pleasures anyway and giving away our ability to do the essential things in life. Why settle for that? It is a shortchanged transaction, or as we call it, kugongwa. A few years of low-grade pleasure in exchange for more years of pain, bad mental health, stress, guilt, medical bills and daily capsules.
I am not saying that living healthy will keep you sick-free 100%. But living healthy is the best shot we’ve got. We are not at the pinnacle of scientific discovery yet, where one can be born with genes to keep them disease-free and healthy for many, many years. We are just not there yet. We are getting there but we aren’t there. But we do have something. It’s not perfect but it’s worth something. It’s better than not doing anything. It’s better than sabotaging our own health. We should love ourselves enough to pick the better alternative.