By Dr. Tony Vendryes
For over a quarter of a century, I have promoted prevention as the key to health and wellness. Initially, this message was not received with widespread enthusiasm. Some people even questioned my sanity. Today prevention is at least getting lip service. Wellness Centres are popping up all over, and almost every week you can find a so-called Health and Wellness event sponsored by a corporate, civic or governmental body.
I had enlisted Benjamin Franklyn’s famous quote “An Ounce of Prevention is worth a pound of cure” to bring focus to the importance of prevention.
My thinking has however evolved past that to: “PREVENTION IS THE CURE”
This principle is fundament and applies not only to illness and disease but also to crime, corruption, potholes, and poverty. I can think of hardly any human activity for which this maxim is not relevant. Sadly leadership myopia and big business greed make this line of thinking an inconvenient truth.
What is prevention?
A dictionary definition of prevention is - the action of stopping something from happening or arising. In my opinion little of modern medicine is really about prevention. The medical specialty often called Public Health is the shining exception to this statement. Special commendation must be given to the Jamaican Ministry of Health and its Minister for their ramped-up focus on promoting Wellness and Healthy lifestyles. That’s real prevention.
Prevention is better
Nobody really wants to be ill. Yet so many of us take our health for granted and give little thought to preventing disease. Then, when illness rears its ugly head we desperately try to rescue ourselves. Medical research clearly indicates that most of the common illness of modern civilization are preventable primarily by simple lifestyle changes. There are some important reasons why we need to seriously practice prevention and make health our number one priority.
Being sick compromises your ability to enjoy life to its fullest, from experiencing the abundant life. People who eat right, exercise regularly, get adequate rest and learn to manage stress tend to have a better quality of life compared to those who don’t.
Sickness is expensive
To those who say that they cannot afford healthy lifestyle practices, like having balanced nutrition, exercise and taking supplements I say you can’t afford not to. Sickness is much more expensive. I have met so many people who have wiped out their entire life savings in a single illness.
What about health insurance? The term ‘Health Insurance’ is a misnomer: it should be labelled ‘sickness insurance’. Although health insurance may sometimes soften the financial burden of disease, how can you insure yourself against the pain, the suffering and loss of time, productivity and pleasure that illness often brings. True health insurance involves spending more of your resources on real health promoting practices like proper nutrition and exercise.
Sadly, health authorities deplete their resources with expensive treatments for preventable diseases.
Sickness invites more sickness
Being sick increases your risk of more sickness. Let’s use a simple example. The common cold is the most prevalent illness worldwide. These viral infections of the upper respiratory tract may seem trivial. However, they also leave us vulnerable to other common respiratory diseases including asthma, ear infections, sinusitis, and tonsillitis.
Here in Jamaica we are seeing a significant increase in a number of autoimmune disease in the aftermath of the ChikV epidemic.
Worse yet, a viral infection can increase your risk of malignancy. Cancer causing viruses include the papilloma virus and cervical cancer, the hepatitis B virus and liver cancer, the Epstein-Barr virus and the herpes virus in leukemia. Taken together, these viruses are responsible for nearly 20% of all cancers.
Despite extensive efforts to ensure the safety of drugs, the can be dangerous. US research reveals an extremely high incidence of adverse drug reactions. Even when drugs were taken under doctors’ directions, they cause more than two million adverse reactions annually, including deaths. Adverse drug reactions rank consistently in the top four causes of death in the America.
Newer prescription drugs are particularly risky, since they have yet to be tested long enough on humans. Ten percent of new drugs released over the past twenty-five years were withdrawn from the market, within two years because of side effects or needed warnings of bad drug reactions.
Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs can also be dangerous, even though many have been around for a long time. OTC anti-inflammatory drugs can increase the frequency of headaches and raise blood pressure. The overuse of mild painkillers like as Tylenol or Advil can actually aggravate the headaches that they were used to treat.
A study of a large group of women who took aspirin or Tylenol more than one day per month showed that they had a significantly higher risk of developing high blood pressure. The researchers believe that many cases of hypertension may be due to the use of these or other medications. To add insult to injury, many of these drugs merely treat symptoms while failing to address the underlying problem.
Hospitals are very important, and many, many lives are saved within their walls. For example, survival from trauma and heart attacks has increased dramatically because of improved hospital services. Nonetheless, hospital environments are hazardous.
Contrary to popular belief hospitals are not sterile, germ-free places and any patients actually acquire infections when they are hospitalized. In the US these infections kill more people each year than car accidents, fires and drowning combined. Fortunately, the hospital infection rates here in Jamaica are much lower.
Overwork, fatigue and chronic staffing shortages among medical personnel contribute to treatment errors and problems resulting from incorrectly prescribed or dispensed drugs. Death due to medical errors now ranks as the eighth leading cause of death in the US
So think prevention: An Ounce of Prevention is worth much more than a Pound of Cure. It is the cure.