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By Nancy Padian, board member.

Nancy is a medical researcher, epidemiologist, and former executive director of the Women’s Global Health Imperitave. She is among the world’s foremost experts on AIDS, and worked in Southern Africa for the last 35 years.

The global pandemic of 2020 COVID-19 (caused by the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets) has generated a stunning amount of morbidity and mortality, and is now part of our everyday reality. But why is this a topic for the SEC? Medical ecology (first coined by Rene Dubos decades ago as a branch of ecology like its better-known relation, epidemiology), is a hybrid science which brings the principles of ecology, earth sciences, and public health together to tackle problems of the environment as they impact human health.   

Indeed, the mission of the SEC is to work with our community to identify and lead actions to achieve and sustain ecological health in Sonoma Valley by addressing challenges related to water supply and quality, open space, rural character, biodiversity, energy, climate change, and a better quality of life, including physical health, for all residents. These issues are manifest by the severe housing affordability crises that is the cornerstone of Sustainable Sonoma’s current focus.  

America’s vulnerability to COVID-19 in many ways reflects our housing and climate crises. Indeed, supporting those who will bear the largest burden of the transition to a green economy and future, affects us all.  The challenges are mirrored by our lack of a strong social safety net for health, livelihoods, income, and nutrition, and all are muddied by the lack of a commitment to equity for all. Those affected are disproportionately people of color (POC). They are more likely to be exposed due to crowded housing and work environments, while their severity of disease may be exacerbated due to increased prevalence of underlying health conditions. To overcome these challenges, we must ensure equal local access to health care that is delivered culturally, socially and linguistically as appropriate. For example, POC, especially African Americans are less likely to get a COVID-19 vaccine given historically racist and dangerous healthcare policies that have not been provided to communities of color for decades.

Most notably, the greatest achievement since the start of pandemic is the development of several highly efficacious vaccines against a previously unknown viral pathogen in less than one year. The progress from development and implementation is remarkable, especially here in the US. Globally however, there is marked inequity regarding vaccine accessibility and treatment unduly affecting those in poorer nations. Racial justice, social justice, economic justice, environmental justice and now vaccine equity, interact together as parts of ecology; where organisms relate to one another and to their physical surroundings. To realize these objectives, we must start at home and look again to Rene Dubos, and “Think globally, act locally.”