Market intervention

Intervening so healthcare has the right support

Systemic healthcare threats such as increasingly antibiotic-resistant bacteria must be countered by active government intervention rather than left to market forces


Systemic healthcare threats such as increasingly antibiotic-resistant bacteria must, if necessary, be countered by active government intervention rather than left solely to market forces. Far better, though, is that pharmaceutical corporations themselves take the lead (rather than wait for governments or others to ‘encourage’ them) in focusing more of their research on antibiotics, so as to keep pace with the progressive mutation of resistant bacteria. And they should lobby hard to ensure that global guidelines and regulation are tightened to avoid the current cavalier attitude in some countries to using antibiotics indiscriminately. Genetic manipulation, whether of crops or humans, should be actively managed at a global level rather than blocked at the national level – any attempts by individual countries to ban particular aspects will simply create a black market as well as set back their own nation’s ability to compete in the global economy.

If politicians are serious about improving the health of their citizens, then they need to take a far firmer stand against tobacco – including counterfeit tobacco, which can have far higher toxic levels. Samples of counterfeit tobacco smuggled from China, for example, have been found to contain thirty times the lead content of regulated tobacco. Increasing numbers of smokers buying cheap under-the-counter cigarettes risk creating a healthcare time-bomb. For similar reasons, politicians and civil groups need seriously to tackle air pollution.

That leaves fatness. In developed countries above everything else, governments and retailers really need to get their act together to tackle obesity. In many advanced countries, eating far too much and exercising far too little has the potential within a couple of decades of becoming the biggest preventable killer. Yet surprisingly little is done to address the issue head-on. To many of us, raising the subject – even with close friends and family – feels a bit embarrassing. As a result, we tend to use the word ‘obese’ instead of ‘fat’. But most of the time we say nothing. As a result, it is not just politicians that keep quiet. Studies are finding that even doctors avoid commenting about their patients’ weight until it is far too late.

As part of this collusion, advertising aimed at average members of society adapts its choice of images to reflect the average shape – so an increasingly-overweight population continues to feel comfortable. Standard clothes-sizes grow. Parents begin to think that a child of ideal weight actually looks ‘skinny and unhealthy’. And some who are morbidly obese protest their right not to be ‘picked on’; meanwhile, their healthcare costs unnecessarily escalate. Everybody involved needs to find the courage to begin some straight talking.