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The Most Advanced Medicine in the World and the Worst Health Statistics to Show for It: America (Part 4)

Written by Roy Upton

The American healthcare system

Evidence for the failings of relying strictly on a research- and profit-driven versus a practitioner driven medical system is no better demonstrated than in the health care statistics of the United States. In 1998, Schuster et al. reported that in almost all aspects of health care, the US is failing. These failings encompass the spectrum of services from preventive, acute, and chronic care; from infants to the elderly; or the health care delivery system of a single city or the country overall. Patients are either not receiving the care they should be receiving or they are receiving inappropriate care that is related to both under treatment and over treatment, as well as the inappropriate use of pharmaceutical medications. Similar findings were reported by numerous other authors (e.g., McGlynn et al. 2003) and organizations over the past decades, demonstrating these patterns have not changed.

By all measures of individual and social health, America is ranked among the worst of all similarly developed nations (Shellard 2000; WHO 2000; Woolf and Aron 2013). In infant mortality, a general marker of overall societal health, the US ranks an appalling 31 (based on 2008 data; Heisler 2012) in the world behind virtually all similarly industrialized nations. In 2000, the WHO ranked the US a dismal 37th in overall health care systems. In a similar ranking by the Commonwealth Fund (2011), the US was far behind other nations in terms of healthy lives, quality, access, efficiency, and equity of health care delivery services and 19th of 23 nations surveyed in healthy life expectancy at age 60 (Commonwealth Fund 2008). Perhaps most importantly, the report noted a “strikingly consistent and pervasive pattern of higher mortality and inferior health in the US, beginning at birth”; that this pattern of poorer health was evident at all stages of life, from infancy to childhood, to adolescence to young adulthood, to middle and old age, and could not be explained by disparities in social demographics. Those who could afford health care and were financially well off fared little better than those less fortunate. More unfortunate is that some of these findings have been reported for decades (such as the persistent high rates of infant mortality) and yet no meaningful change in the system occurs. The failings of the American system is similarly evidenced by the disproportionate negative impact COVID-19 has had on the American population, where more people have died per capita than any other nation. Primary care pioneer Barbara Starfield (1932–2011), highlights that the majority of those countries with the best health statistics have a strong primary care infrastructure and that better outcomes are correlated with primary care services (Starfield 2000). Primary care providers can be described as ‘patient centric’. This in contrast to the predominant reliance on specialists in the US, which can be described as more ‘research centric’. The WHO has a long history of recognizing traditional health care practitioners as primary health care providers, but many countries, like the US, lack acceptance or full integration of traditional healing practitioners into their national health care systems. The advantage of integrating traditional healing practices into a national health care system was highlighted by China’s full integration of traditional Chinese medical practices, and specific codification of herbal formulas for the treatment of SARS in 2003. When herbal medicines were integrated into the treatment of SARS, the death rate due to SARS dramatically declined (Chen and Nakamura 2004; Yang et al. 2020). Similar protocols and use of herbal medicine were fully integrated for various stages of COVID-19.

No improvements in health statistics can occur without a fundamental change in the philosophical basis by which health and healing is approached. As long as the militaristic approach of search and destroy is employed as the primary therapeutic paradigm, big guns represented in powerful pharmaceuticals and high tech interventions will continue to yield the extremely poor health statistics reflected in the American system.

Roy Upton is the founder, president, and editor of the American Herbal Pharmacopoeia (AHP). He has been working and practicing professionally as a herbalist since 1981, and he trained in Ayurvedic, Traditional Chinese, and Western herbal medicine and has also studied and worked extensively with Native American and Caribbean ethnobotanical traditions. As an integral part of his work as a herbalist, he spend a great deal of time defending the rights of consumers to access herbal medicines and to see herbal medicine integrated into the fabric of both our homes and health care systems.

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