Recently, a blogger I follow posted something which was hard to read. His goddaughter was diagnosed with a brain tumour some months ago, and the latest news is that her condition is terminal. She’s just a little girl, and her parents and family and friends now have to come to grips with the thought of losing her. The blogger pointed to a website where people could donate, to try and find a cure for these cancers.
And this made me think of the number of times every year, when money is being raised for this hospital or that illness. Friends ask me for donations to cure diabetes or leukemia or mental illness, or assist people living with disabilities. I’m often asked to sponsor others going on walks or runs or bike rides, so they can raise awareness and money to support more research.
I have to say, I’m kind of over it.
Oh, I’m more than happy to donate when I can and boost the signal when I can’t. I am also completely convinced that each of these causes is worthy of support. But what wears me down about it, is the fact that I can’t help wondering… why is it that individuals are being asked to fund hospitals, health programmes, and research into these diseases? Why are individuals directly paying for this incredibly important work, when we should surely be investing as much money as we can on a State level, to ensure the best possible outcomes?
I know it would be naive to assume that we could give as much money as is necessary to every facet of the public sector. I understand, there is a budget and a deficit, and books have to be balanced, or at least, debt has to be managed. This means that there needs to be some difficult accounting decisions made at a State level, and juggling different needs of the population and the country is a complicated matter. But what I’m arguing is that our priorities seem a little skewed. Of course, anyone involved in these decisions will likely insist that the money we have is allocated on a very fair basis, and that some areas of the budget are more deserving of funds than others. It might be necessary, for example, to spend money on improving a road where there have been several recent accidents, rather than upgrading the local library And that seems quite logical and acceptable. However, given the right arguments, it’s always easy to justify one financial decision over another, which is how our hospitals and researchers end up turning to fundraising for support.
Granted, all the money in the world is not going to save every life. It’s not going to mean that we suddenly live forever, or never get sick. But research can help. And when we really want to get something done, we do throw money at it, and this has been the case for centuries. Take food preservation, for example: invented through the need to provide soldier’s in Napoleon’s army with edible food for long periods of time. Penicillin, although used in the general population after World War II, was tested extensively on soldiers during the war and owes the escalation of its widespread expansion to the necessity of saving the lives of those who were seriously wounded in battle. Conversely, more sinister developments such as the nuclear bomb were fast-tracked in the interests of one side preventing the other side from winning.
Naturally, it doesn’t take a war to drive people to come up with solutions to everyday problems. But war, or the perceived threat of it, spurs on governments to invest heavily in science which will help them to either protect themselves or more effectively conquer their enemies. Even the public, when they are aware of them, are often behind such investments, as it’s seen to be of value to promote the war effort.
Why, then, don’t we have the same urgency to funnel such funding into a cure or vaccine for cancer? Why are our scientists not given carte blanche when it comes to curing AIDS or eradicating malaria or tuberculosis? How strange that there are so many millions of people who still don’t have access to proper sanitation… how odd that we’re willing to sacrifice the quality of our air and water by polluting it through mining for fossil fuels, when we could be investing in alternative sources. Is it really the case, that it’s more important for us to work out more efficient ways to kill each other?
I realise this all sounds like the bleeding heart of an idealised liberal, who would like us all to get along, and I know–I really do understand–that peace-power cannot always win. But when we see billions of dollars going into defence spending, and our hospitals are asking us to help them build extra facilities, or our researchers are asking for money to help solve the riddle of the many as-yet incurable diseases, I feel as if there is a very clear message from our politicians: those problems might be important, but they are not as important as defence.
And the most sobering aspect of this is, through our inaction, through our failure to lobby them and insist that life is of the utmost importance, we are complicit. We can donate to organisations and fund research, but we could achieve so, so much more, if our tax dollars were going to promote the health of the world and those upon it, rather than attempting to destroy it.
Until then, we can merely hope that somehow we’ll still manage to get some results using the methods we already have in place, and begin to ask our governments to justify their budgets.
Want to donate to help save lives?
Here are a few organisations which could use your assistance: