We’ve looked at a lot of maps at this blog over the past several Mondays. We’ve seen some statistics that have surprised us, reassured us, upset us, and some which we were correct to question.
We’ve come to realize that when you look at data, whether it is shown in the form of maps, charts, graphs, or with the currently popular infographics, you have to be ready to ask questions. You have to learn to interpret what is being presented to you. I happen to really like maps, but as I’ve mentioned in previous Map Monday posts, the data is presented for each country as the country average, which may be very different if you were to map it by urban vs. rural, by gender, by socio-economic strata, by race, by religion, by political bent, or by geographic features. It’s a learning process, and a fascinating one – at least I think so.
I have spent a lot of time this week looking for maps that would help us understand the pandemic: its spread and reasons behind why it is spreading the way it is. Currently, all I can really find by way of maps are those that show the spread by number of cases and those that show the spread by number of deaths. And, as you know, since we are all living through this nightmare in progress, the maps I will include at the end of this post will change by the day, and not for the good for many people.
We’ve actually seen some maps in previous weeks that speak to why the virus spreads somewhat differently from country to country, and why there are more deaths as a percentage of the population in some countries than in others.
For example, we’ve seen maps that show which countries have universal healthcare systems, which ones have hybrid systems, and which ones do not have universal healthcare. Although some universal healthcare systems are undoubtedly better than others, and for sure some healthcare systems were better prepared to handle this health catastrophe, with universal healthcare people do not need to think twice about seeking care or testing. And people with universal healthcare should not expect to have a large subclass of citizens who have underlying health issues making them more vulnerable simply because they have never been able to afford to go to a doctor.
For example, we’ve seen maps that show the level of inequality in each country. This is another indicator of how well a country can respond to such a devastating global event, because less inequality speaks to the level of the social safety net in place for people, which is always critical for a healthy civil society, and particularly so when an entire global economy more or less comes to a standstill.
Poverty levels (wealth) is another indicator, similar to inequality levels but different. And, although this pandemic started in the so-called wealthy countries, because that is where the people who can afford to travel live, inadvertently bringing the new coronavirus back with them, this virus will spread everywhere, and the poor countries will be devastated.
But there are many indicators of success a country will have in dealing with a pandemic that I haven’t been able to find in maps, although I could find some in charts and graphs. I’ll just list a few:
- Changes in global travel over time. International travel has grown exponentially in the past 50 years. Exponentially. All that plane and cruise ship travel has been growing like gangbusters. When few people went anywhere, new outbreaks were more likely to stay in place and eventually die down.
- Global warming and the spread of new bugs. I’d love to see a map that illustrated the correlation between changes in our world due to climate change and the spread of disease. For example, as the northern hemisphere warms, Lyme disease is becoming more prevalent in further reaches as the ticks find blood sources further north, like on moose. As the Amazon rain forest is being “harvested”, mosquitos that have mostly kept their yellow fever in the Amazon basin have found new opportunities as far afield as Rio and beyond. As habitat for farming is lost due to drought or floods, poor people will gravitate even more to bush meat, which is where some of these new viruses come from. It would be extremely useful to see maps that help explain these phenomena.
- Political leadership. There are no maps that show what kind of leadership each country has in office as this pandemic hits. Sure, there may be maps that show what party or overall political philosophy is in office, but not what guides the decision makers. Clearly, this kind of unprecedented situation calls for leaders who are concerned about the safety of all their citizens above all else, who listen to the scientific experts, who take decisive action, and who lead with compassion and confidence. I’m sure it’s a fluke, but has anyone else noticed that the countries that are singled out for taking decisive action that has had the desired results (minimum of deaths, cooperating citizenry) are: New Zealand, Denmark, Taiwan, Norway, and Germany. Has anyone else noticed that every one of the leaders of those countries are women? Just sayin’! (Oh, yes, and South Korea, with a male prime minister.) And has anyone else noticed that almost all the national and provincial chief medical officers are women. Hmm.
- Pandemic planning. I could find no maps or even charts that showed which countries had a pandemic plan in place, or at least a plan that was out of date. I could find no maps or charts that indicated which countries have an active pandemic planning unit. I know that some do, including the African countries that have been dealing with Ebola.
- Testing and containment. I couldn’t find any maps that showed the testing strategy different countries have been using. Testing early and testing widely clearly seems to be one of the most effective aids to controlling the spread of the disease. Nor could I find any maps or other diagrams that showed when different countries implemented their stay-at-home strategies, the other most effective aid in containing the spread of the disease.
One thing that we must hope all our leaders realize now, even if they might have thought otherwise as recently as 4 weeks ago, is that science is in charge. Sure, scientists may not get it 100% right all the time, but they are working from a far better perspective and knowledge base than those of us without the scientific/medical training. And it is the science – nature if that works better for you – that knows what’s happening. The scientists are the ones working to figure out this new mystery so they can help the rest of us make the best possible decisions. There is nothing more important.
And let’s hope that when this calamity is finally over, or at least calmed down, the same decision-makers remember these lessons about the critical importance of science experts and apply it to climate change. Climate change is science – nature, once again, if that works better for you – and our planet desperately needs the decision-makers to pay as much attention to the climate scientists as they need to be doing now to the public health specialists. Please!
And now, finally, a few maps. I have chosen maps of deaths/1 million people instead of maps of numbers of cases, because the number of cases is entirely dependent on the testing protocol in each country – or lack thereof. The death counts aren’t perfect (and we wish they were far lower), but they’re a more accurate indicator of what’s really happening in each country – today.
And, finally, a quick look at the pandemic in cases as opposed to deaths. You can find the changes in number of cases for every day at the interactive map at the NBC New York link.