NEWS COMMENTARY ON THE INTERCONNECTED RIPPLING EFFECT OF COVID-19 AND THE NEED FOR A HOLISTIC SOLUTION IN THE WAKE OF DELAYED VACCINES.
One thing the impact of COVID-19 has revealed is that countries are ultimately on their own. It has been more than a year since a new world came into being as a result of COVID-19. It has upturned our pattern of social relations, clobbered our economies and trade relations, and continues to impact our psychological wellbeing. While the Global Health Security Index 2019 placed the United States, United Kingdom and Canada on top of the list of countries better prepared for a health crisis, it turns out the US and UK were not ready to handle the virus relative to their initial responses. Contact tracing, testing widely and procurement of PPE yet they still struggled to contain the spread of the virus. The pandemic is a bunch of different things, but it has also underscored two key facts about the world we live in—that the virus or new outbreaks of other diseases are more tangible, that countries are interconnected but eventually, countries are on their own.
The Centre for Disease Control (CDC), estimates that three-quarters of new or emerging infectious diseases emanate from animals including swine flu, bird flu, SARS, AIDS, Ebola and potentially, the coronavirus. Across many parts of the world, people do not only live in close proximity to viral-hosting wild animals such as bats, but they also raise animals for food and experts believe this is an invitation to respiratory diseases via animal-to-human viral transfer. Zoonotic diseases including coronavirus are seen to be nature’s reaction to human invasion of wilder domains.
The scale of human footprints on the planet through production and consumption of goods and services, and generation of more waste and greenhouse gas emissions are imposing costs and spurring the odds for future pandemics and timeless ecological disasters. While global emissions dropped by about 5 percent in 2020 due to COVID-19, climate action champion, Bill Gates says the world habitually adds 51 billion greenhouse gases to warm the climate annually due to modern consumerist lifestyle. Building a new model from the ruins of the old requires massive, fairer and sustained investments in clean energy, in sustainable agriculture, in crisis management measures and in conservation to mitigate the impact of health and ecological risks. Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of Canada and England argues that “the legacy we leave depends on how much we value the future”.
Mitigation measures should be at the heart of governments’ economic stimulus plan in the post-pandemic era. Canada, France, Chile, UK and Switzerland are part of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries marshalling carbon tax trade-offs to raise revenue on carbon emitters to fund clean technology. Canada is further moving to ban single-use plastics by the end of this year. These steps are reinforcing as they create incentive for individuals and firms to be accountable in terms of where and how greenhouse emissions occur and allow government to circle back carbon revenues into the economy in the form of citizen reimbursement. Building climate resilience should be linked to investments in public health infrastructure.
The medical crisis we are confronted with has shown that the world has great benefits but full of ever-present vulnerabilities, without adequate buffers. Investments in infrastructure and public health administration must fundamentally come from the political leadership of the continent supported by the private sector. Ghana’s Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research and Nigeria’s National Incident Coordination Centre are lessons of emergency preparedness, and both centres have been instrumental in coordinating local responses to COVID-19 with international partners. As countries race to procure vaccine doses, PPEs and critical diagnostics, national self-interest and “international selfishness” have dominated vaccine distribution. Countries and regions that have the capacity to develop a vaccine are withholding it from political and economic competitors. Such dynamics make least Developed Countries with limited to no manufacturing and fiscal capacity more vulnerable. As deadlier variants of the virus keep circulating globally, vaccine protectionism is also firming up.
If 7.5 billion people are stuck together on a virus-infected cruise ship, does it make sense to clean and scrub only our personal cabins while ignoring the corridors and air wells outside the same boat, humanity has to take care of the global boat as a whole.
BY: DANIEL ASARE, A PUBLIC POLICY AND POLITICAL RISK ANALYST.