“If you cure someone of cancer, you are thanked and feted.. But if you prevent a hundred people from getting cancer, hardly anyone bothers.”
...these are not my words, but they - or something very like them – were said by a visitor to my house last week. He was a professor of Public Health in England, and he wasn't speaking with any rancour or jealousy of his colleagues who specialise in patient care. He was simply saying what is palpably true, namely that though prevention is better than cure, the amount of attention devoted to the former is much less than that awarded to the latter.
I noticed this myself twice in Glasgow. The first time was around 25 years ago when another professor of public health initiated a campaign in a very poor part of the city to discourage pregnant women from smoking. The results were startling. Health complications in both the women and their babies diminished exponentially. It must have saved the NHS untold amounts of money. But its success, at that time, was never trumpeted.
Then just the other day, the news got out that Glasgow – which ten years ago was called the murder capital of Europe - has seen a dramatic decrease in crime. This is largely due to an initiative the police have taken to engage with people who are most susceptible to committing violent offences.There were 39 murders in the city in 2004, down to 18 last year with similar reductions in attempted murder and serious assault. An earlier study showed that weapon possession among gang members has fallen by 85%. Think how much money that has saved in terms of policing and imprisonment. But the proactive measures of the police and social services are unlikely to be feted in the same way as they would, had they solved a heinous crime.
I wouldn't claim that the proverb 'prevention is better than cure' has its origin in any holy book. Not all divine wisdom is necessarily dispensed through such a conduit. But I have no doubt that Jesus gave the insight his full endorsement.
He has a series of controversial sayings where he doesn't so much question the law as morally supercede it. He indicates that if the root cause of murder is anger, that has to be managed to prevent any killing. And if the root cause of adultery is lust, that has to be addressed before people get hurt.
But, curiously, these radical words which are aimed at forestalling an offence are less often remembered than the laws to which they refer.
I don't have any quick answer as to why in time, publicity and finance – whether it's to do with health or crime – we prefer to extol the cure rather than prevent the tragedy. But I think the question deserves some pondering.
See more information, you can visit us