A grim reality: In the United States we have placed public health as one of the lowest priorities. If we are going to save lives and livelihoods, we must work to ensure a level playing field when it comes to the health of our fellow citizens—and citizens of the world. 

Since I launched Less Cancer in 2003-4 as a charity to secure public health and prevent cancer risks, I have heard countless stories of preventable deaths and loss from other causes—natural disasters such as the pandemic of 1918 as well as cataclysmic suffering caused by social injustice, sickness, death, war and violence. 

Through evidence-based science and our recent history we know that many, many things are within our capacity to prevent. We have the tools to create change and to insure that everyone has a fighting chance when this pandemic—or the next one— rears its head again. We must let go of politics and be guided by science to raise the bar on not just America’s health, but the health of our global community.

As life starts to edge toward a new normal during the current Covid-19 pandemic, we have an opportunity to do things differently. We are operating now with fingers crossed, gingerly moving forward into the unknown. But there are many things that ARE known.

For instance, we can do a better job of caring for those without resources when their health is negatively impacted. We need to look at all the ways within our reach where we can do more to bridge the gaps of social determinants of health. 

We know hand-washing is a must for keeping communities healthy. So why would we turn off the water supply of those who cannot pay? This happened to more than 140,000 Detroit households over the past six years. The water is now on, but will it stay on? We’re seeing the devastating effect of the coronavirus in parts of the world where clean water—a basic human need—is not available. This situation is preventable in the U.S.

Another basic need that is critical to public health is food for children. We have record numbers of children in the U.S. who do not have access to nutritious food—at a time when preventing and treating illness has never been greater.  If we are to make headway on improving Americans’ poor general health, we must make sure our children are fed safe, healthy food so they can grow and thrive. As a country, we have the ability—and the responsibility—to nurture the children who are the future. 

This is where education, policy and legislation can make great inroads. As global community members, we can do so much better in securing the health of our families and our neighbors. Just as we continue our work to discover and prevent causes of cancer, we can tackle—and often prevent—other diseases before they have a chance to ravage our communities. If we have learned anything from the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s that protecting individuals who are less prepared is in our own best interests—and it’s the right thing to do.