we ought to prioritize health, wellbeing, and humanity above all else

Sept 20, 2020 – It has been three months since residency training started, and over six months since our local communities have been acutely responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The experiences that so very many have faced and continue to face throughout the public health response to this global pandemic of our times have been exceptional and extraordinary. The resilience that many have demonstrated, the suffering that has been felt, and the difficulties and challenges that continue to lie ahead in uncertain times continue to linger in my mind daily. 

Over these past few months, I’ve tried to make sense of drastically different social norms that we’ve come to embrace as a collective to protect each others’ health and wellbeing – that of wearing non-medical masks in public, physical distancing when possible, and using hand sanitizer countless times in a day. The strangeness of it all is still hard to shake – considering how different things were only a mere 6 months ago. 

The pandemic has affected so many people in different ways and has cut sadly many lives short. The unintended impacts of the public health response to the pandemic have been challenging for many at best and life-threatening at worst. I had met a patient that had come to the clinic in-person and for me to realize that this opportunity of leaving their retirement home has been the first opportunity they’ve been allowed out of their building since the pandemic began – how happy she was to again enjoy the simple things of picking up some groceries and sitting on a park bench to people watch, if only for a short time. I too have learned and relearned of how many things I am incredibly grateful for – taking the time to be fully present and aware, acknowledging my worries, fears, and frustrations. 

The pandemic has acutely and perhaps chronically allowed us as a society to re-examine our priorities and values that prioritize health, wellbeing, and humanity. We have seen health and social inequities widen and worsen. We have seen disproportionate negative impacts of the pandemic and pandemic response on priority populations, including those that are in more vulnerable and marginalized situations. We have seen racism, discrimination, misinformation, and stigma contaminate an effective, collective, and cohesive societal response. And we have seen the inextricable linkages and concurrent climate and ecological crisis that is unfolding more and more each day demonstrating its dire health and social consequences. And we have seen economic impacts, a system created and sustained by communities that will only thrive when communities and people themselves are healthy, well, and thriving. 

We have also seen tremendous acts of heroism, kindness, humanity, and solidarity. 

There is much still to be optimistic about, and as we have seen from these past few months from the response to the global pandemic at all levels, there are certainly means to address social and health inequities rapidly and thoughtfully. These complex systems-level issues can be fought and addressed, but it will take realigning our priorities and values to do so – as the previous system simply was failing too many people in vulnerable situations. The answers and path forward for a strong, just, and equitable recovery and response to the global pandemic lie within communities, and it is up to all of us to listen. We ought to collectively continue to envision communities and a world that priorities health, wellbeing, and humanity above all else. The future of our earth, our communities, and the generations after us depend on it. 

– yipeng

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