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By: Erik Berglöf
The COVID-19 coronavirus is disrupting practically every aspect of life all over the world. Naturally, governments are working to protect their own populations first, including by closing their borders and imposing quarantines and lockdowns. But, in doing so, they are often failing to see the bigger picture. That critical error of judgment, if not corrected, will come back to haunt us all.
The suffering COVID-19 leaves in its wake – from death, damaged immune systems, and weakened economies – will be most serious for those are least capable of defending themselves, in our local communities and globally. Yet this wave of infections is likely to be just the first. As COVID-19 reaches countries with fragile institutions and weak health systems, huge numbers of people could die in the short term, including many of the millions of vulnerable people living in unruly and under-resourced refugee camps. Moreover, the virus could become endemic.
According to the Wellcome Trust’s Jeremy Farrar, Wuhan, China – where the virus first emerged, but deaths and new infections are now tapering off – is in week 18-20 of a 20-22-week epidemic. Northern Italy might now be in week 11-13, and the United Kingdom is in week 8-9. The vulnerable countries of Africa and Central and South America, however, are in week 1-5 – the very beginning of their epidemic cycle.
Containing a pandemic requires strengthening the weakest links – in an individual hospital, a local community, a country, or the world. That is why it is in everyone’s interest urgently to shore up weak health-care systems, which must be able to handle not only the imminent flood of cases, but also be prepared for future waves of COVID-19 and similar viruses.
Such efforts must be fast and large-scale, designed for the worst-case scenario. Leaders must use research-based evidence and cope with steep learning curves. There is no room for empty slogans and sloppy intuition. The costs of an ambitious response are puny compared to those incurred as a result of hesitation or errors.
The G20 should take the lead in galvanizing action, as it did after the 2008 global financial crisis. At its 2009 summit in London, the G20 coalesced around a joint action plan that engaged key stakeholders and ensured that the global system continued to operate. A similar approach is needed today.
For starters, a global strategy must support the effort to develop and distribute a vaccine. The COVID-19 pandemic has already brought about the fastest exchange of scientific knowledge in human history, with scientific journals removing relevant paywalls.
There is no guarantee that a vaccine will be found – we have yet to develop one for the common cold, which can be caused by another coronavirus. But if one is developed, it must be mass-produced and delivered to the entire world. Unilateral efforts like those of US President Donald Trump’s administration – which reportedly attempted to purchase exclusive rights to any vaccine developed by a German pharmaceutical company – must be resisted.
An effective global strategy must also include health education. As World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom put it at last month’s Munich Security Conference, “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic” – one that can be as damaging as the virus itself, particularly in countries with weaker institutions. The current focus on health provides a rare opportunity to invest in such education.
To succeed, G20 governments will need to listen to and work with international organizations – beginning with the WHO. The WHO has withstood heavy criticism lately, as it has during past epidemics, but much of this faultfinding is misdirected, ill-informed, and counterproductive. The WHO remains the only institution that can provide global health leadership and inspire the trust needed to intervene. We undermine it at our own risk.
On the economic front, the International Monetary Fund – which provided much-needed cash during the 2014-16 West African Ebola epidemic – has already pledged to make available about USD 50 billion through its rapid-disbursement emergency financing facilities. The World Bank, which has a long record of supporting health care, has announced an initial package of up to USD 12 billion in immediate support to affected countries.
Lastly, the private and philanthropic sectors must join the fight. Already, the Wellcome Trust, together with the Mastercard Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have announced the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator – a USD 125 million initiative to identify potential treatments for the virus, hasten their development, and prepare for the manufacture of millions of doses for use worldwide. Public-private partnerships – such as the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, which support the development and administration of vaccines, respectively – should also be activated.
But a large funding gap remains. The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board has requested at least USD eight billion in immediate new funding, including USD one billion to strengthen the WHO’s emergency and preparedness response, USD 250 million for surveillance and control measures, USD two billion for vaccine development, USD one billion for distributed manufacturing and delivery of vaccines, and USD 1.5 billion for therapeutic drugs to treat COVID-19.
G20 finance ministers must provide the necessary resources before the next scheduled meeting in April. The required investment is minute compared to the social and economic costs of inaction. And an effective joint response could lay the groundwork for a new, more nimble multilateralism that is far better equipped to handle future global challenges, from climate change to the next pandemic.
Future historians will judge our effectiveness in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. Unless world leaders work together, they will not judge us kindly.
By: Baye B. Asfaw
The word pandemic is used to describe a disease with a wide occurrence on a global scale. In history, the world has witnessed some of the deadliest pandemics including cholera, bubonic plague, smallpox and HIV to mention just a few.
Now the world is confronted with another deadly pandemic yet again which, according to worldometers.info, is affecting more than 285,000 people across 185 countries as I am writing this article (confirmed cases have reached more than 420,000).
Though there have been concerted efforts from concerned entities led by the World Health Organization (WHO), in some countries we are still witnessing governments and people being confused about how to respond to this situation.
In some instances, people are forced to follow a new norm even though it is against their will. Many people around the world are required to self-isolate, keep their social distance, avoid crowds or even work at home. These measures will definitely impact people’s psychological wellbeing. Uncertainties about the virus, worry about who is sick or not, and the fear of getting the virus and whether or not there is a chance of recovery and what not still poses a great concern on individuals.
Even though it is understandable that people panic in this critical and fearful time, worrying too much will only worsen the condition and do not bring a solution to the current problem. As much as we are told to keep our personal hygiene, I would like to point out that our mental hygiene is also equally important. By that I mean, trying to stay focused, being able to sift fake information and those that are reliable, not panicking, staying positive and hopeful will definitely help us improve our coping capabilities.
Among some of the measures we could take in order to improve our mental hygiene includes asking for help when in need, strictly following trustworthy advises from WHO and the Ministry of Health and ignoring baseless conspiracies that might exacerbate the stress caused by the pandemic.
In addition to that the Center for Disease Control (CDC) also recommends some measures that would help improve mental wellbeing in times of outbreak and it includes taking a break from news and media report about the outbreak, talking to others (it could be on the phone) and etc.
It is odd that we are in a time where we say “Divided we stand, United we fall”. But keeping our faith alive and focusing on the future will definitely get us through this pandemic.