JulieB By: JulieB
Lecturer in Global Health
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02 Oct 2020 : One word springs to mind today

The word that springs to mind today, to me at least, is hubris. I've had many friends come up with different words today, some even celebratory... but I cannot - and would not ever - celebrate the ill health of anyone at all. The word for me, is hubris. 

I first heard that word back in 2009 when I was doing my first postdoc at the Centre for Non-Traditional Security in Singapore. Tikki Pang, who came over from WHO, was talking to my (amazing) boss and me at the time. We had just hosted a large conference entitled "Pandemic Preparedness: Keeping Asia Safe" and I had moved from working on neglected/forgotten diseases to new/emerging ones. Even though it was 11 years ago, I remember the moment and the feeling really well and have thought back to it a lot during 2020! To cut a long story short, Tikki, who was between Geneva and Singapore at that time, was talking about Western hubris and how that was ultimately going to be bad in any pandemic situation. (he had some foresight there, clearly!)

Although I do not identify with being "Western" - I am half Eastern European after all and my identity was formed as being from the East, rather than the West, in the 1980s... I still somehow felt a little offended and confused by what Tikki and my boss were saying. but being the new kid on the block, I listened and later googled the word to get a better and richer understanding of it. It was at that point that I realised that they were both right. And while I didn't feel that the term was representative of me - by this time a "proud European who was living in Australasia for several years already, though with a deep longing to spend time in Africa" (let's just say my identity is "global"... as I mentioned in one of my first posts)... I realised at that time that it was hugely representative of the situation in UK and USA. 

Fast forward 11 years to 2020 and I think if there is one feature of the pandemic response that differs between Western Europea/USA and "the rest of the world" it is the presence of hubris. Hubris + pandemic = poor health outcomes. Tikki, my boss, and much of Asia and indeed the world, knew/know better. 

I wish everyone who is infected with covid or suffering any other ill health a speedy recovery. More than that, I wish them the humility that helps to avoid such situations escalating in the first place. 

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