On this lovely Sunday evening in Vancouver, it tells me that almost 130,000 people have died today, and almost 314,000 have been born. Worldwide, public health spending was well over $8 billion, more than twice military spending.
It also tells me that over 25,000 people have died of hunger today, while money spent on weight-loss programs, in the US alone, is moving rapidly toward $160 million.
Water-related diseases have killed over 1,350,000 people this year, which is no surprise since over 766 million have no safe source of drinking water.
Almost 10 million human beings have died of communicable diseases this year; almost 6 million children under 5 have died after a brief, unpleasant glimpse of life on this planet; 800,000 of them die yearly from diarrhea, so about 2,000 of them have died of it today.
Almost 750,000 of us have died of malaria so far this year—but over 2.8 million have died of smoking, and 1.9 million from alcohol. Spending on illegal drugs is well past $300 billion this year, and climbing almost too fast to track.
Seen in this light, the number of cases of MERS or H7N9 or H5N1 are less than rounding errors. We certainly need to pay attention to them, because they could spiral into something comparable to diarrhea or smoking, or even worse.
But we also need to pay attention to whatever it is, in our minds or our cultures, that makes us ignore the major causes of death while obsessing about this or that stray virus. If our species were more healthy in general, such viruses would have a much harder job of succeeding with us. And then we could move on to a better class of problem: how to deal with all those extra millions of well-fed, healthy fellow human beings.