Prescription for health careHe was known as “Patient No. 5.” The 50-year-old doctor at 365 Open Clinic in Gangdong-gu, Seoul, contracted MERS while treating Patient No. 1. He stopped treating patients when he learned of secondary infections, and when he had a fever, he immediately contacted a community health center. He was isolated in the hospital for treatment and discharged on June 8. As the country is stirred by the nationwide outbreak of MERS, the complete recovery of Patient No. 5 brought new insight to the situation.
“I believe disclosure of the hospitals is necessary,” he said. “The list must be made public, and once the MERS outbreak is under control, hospital operations would return to normal.”
He himself contracted the virus while treating a MERS patient in his clinic. It was obvious the clinic would be affected by the publicity. Patients would be reluctant to visit his clinic. However, the doctor was resolute and calm. He was different from policy makers who tried to hide the situation and fanned the flames of fear. The doctor put the safety of the community ahead of his business. As chaos and panic over MERS elevated, his resolute words consoled Koreans that we still have hope.
What is a nation? English philosopher Thomas Hobbes’ social contract theory defines a nation as protecting the life, safety and property of its citizens. While people establish a nation, it transcends individuals. So people have to trust someone who leads the nation.
But our trust was shattered as MERS spread. The pathetic state of our so-called “leaders” was revealed when faced with a crisis. Naturally, people now think we have to take care of ourselves, as there is no one to protect us. It is a national disgrace. People developed applications and created online groups to share MERS-related information. Because the government refused to identify the hospitals where MERS was contracted or treated, people created and shared maps on their own.
What we expect from the nation is not some grand value of establishing morals and justice. Our humble hope is to live safely, and that wish was crushed. It is a pity Koreans have to find ways to survive on their own. Individual pursuit of survival is rather dangerous. People could become inattentive and careless about other people, and such egocentrism can bring down the community.
Koreans have a sense of community to the core. We say “our country,” not “my country.” We like to say “our family,” “our society” and “our school.” We are not alone. We know how to work together. Signs of community bonding are everywhere. Those at risk put themselves in self-imposed isolation, and people strictly follow prevention measures. If we are more considerate to others and display mature citizenship, we can get over the MERS scare.
We also need to use the crisis as a chance to change the neglected systems. First of all, the culture of hospital visits should be changed. We should stop the pretentious custom of visiting patients in hospitals. While wishing for recovery is a good thing, visits virtually pave the way for the spread of contagious diseases. You are not a bad person for not visiting a hospitalized friend or relative.
It is up to the hospitals to strictly control infections. While Korea takes pride in world-class medical technology, infection control and prevention is rather backwards. One of the direct causes is patient care. Staying by a sick family member for 24 hours a day should not be considered a symbol of devotion and love. The latest spread of the MERS virus is not a mutation, but an infection spread in the hospitals.
It boils down to the issue of medical and welfare system reform. When families are pressured to care for patients in hospitals, second and third virus outbreaks cannot be prevented. SARS put the world in a panic in 2003 and H1N1 (also known as swine flu) virus spread in 2009, but Korea set a model in prevention because patients were screened before being hospitalized. If patients visit clinics and hospitals without realizing they are infected, the spread of the virus could not have been prevented.
It is necessary to build a system where nursing and care professionals, not family members, provide care for the patients. It is directly related to the health of citizens. Medical insurance system reform is a must. This week is expected to be a watershed. We can turn this crisis into an opportunity with citizenship and a sense of community. The Korean people have the power.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 10, Page 28
*The author is the business and industrial news editor of the JoongAng Sunday.
by Kim Jong-yoon