In a thoughtful piece printed in The Guardian on 2 April 2020, United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, argues for a three-pronged approach to tackling the pandemic. To boil it down, Guterres demands: suppression of the curve; economic rescue packages; and seismic structural changes, so that the world doesn’t return to the pre-pandemic, business-as-usual, world of vast inequalities. We are as weak as our weakest international healthcare system.
Only a fool could disagree with that.
Examining further, the Secretary-General also wrote:
“Clearly, we must fight the virus for all of humanity, with a focus on people, especially the most affected: women, older people, youth, low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the informal sector and vulnerable groups.”
Women: why focus on women in this context? The statistics, first emanating from China, and then from every other country, reveal that men are much more likely to die from this virus. In Italy, for example, men accounted for 55% of cases, but 69% of deaths. In Ireland, the figures are stark: men account for 48% of cases but 69% of deaths. A similar ratio is found in the UK.
Why do men die in greater numbers from COVID (and live four fewer years then women in the UK) than women? At the time of writing, the science is unclear. Perhaps the reason is that far more men than women smoke. Perhaps the reason is genetic: for example, women can fight off Hepatitis C far more easily than men, because of their two X chromosomes to men’s one. Shortly, the puzzle will be solved.
But regardless of reason, it is baffling why the Secretary-General’s precise written – rather not verbal (the spoken word can be forgiven, see this post) – words, favoured the gender which is least impacted. Was it sexism, or simply folly? This is a virus in which we are all in it together, though the poorest will, as ever, be hit hardest. At a time when our leaders must be precise with their comprehension of the data, and free from dogma, the Secretary General’s error is unfathomable.
Undoubtedly, today, based on the evidence, I would rather be female than a male. I shall update my will accordingly.