VIEW: Coronavirus shook the world to the core; Could this economic & health crisis be avoided?

Story Highlights
  • Reportedly, there have been 20 of the worst epidemics and pandemics, dating from prehistoric to modern times
  • Due to Coronavirus, More than 4.1 million people are infected & 284,152 deaths have been registered worldwide
  • Developed countries are worst affected by this pandemic outbreak

VIEW: The WHO & World Bank through a joint initiative of the ‘Global Preparedness Monitoring Board’ warned us of a “very real threat of a rapidly moving, highly lethal pandemic of a respiratory pathogen killing 50 to 80 million people and wiping out nearly 5% of the world’s economy.” It was mentioned in a  report titled ” A World at Risk” released six months ago. https://apps.who.int/gpmb/assets/annual_report/GPMB_annualreport_2019.pdf

Another report highlighting the inadequate global investment in pandemic preparedness & response, titled “From Panic and Neglect to Investing in Health Security” was issued by the International Working Group on Financing Preparedness two years ago. 

Three years ago, various measures to stave off health disasters including an annual investment of $3.4 billion to upgrade national health systems; $1 billion investment in research and development and up to $155 million for the WHO to establish a dedicated Centre for Health Emergency Preparedness and Response were proposed by the Commission on Global Health Risk Framework for the Future. However, no concrete action was taken then. 

Considering the current economic downturn and the lack of capacity to respond adequately to the pandemic, those sums seem very reasonable. 

Five years ago, UN member states extended the definition of risk to include biological hazards when they adopted the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. This was a result of a push from countries which had experienced Ebola, MARS and SARS.

The Sendai Framework calls for a substantial number of member states to have a national strategy for disaster risk reduction by the end of this year. However, to date, only 81 countries report having these in place. Not many of these strategies include pandemic threats. It is time now to rectify this following WHO guidelines 

These are some examples of how the countries across the globe have ignored the alarming signs as well as chose not to take significant actions to remain well prepared for such pandemics. 

There have been various studies about the healthcare systems of different nations across the globe in the past. Different studies are based on certain indicators, mainly : Quality, Access, Efficiency, Equity and Healthy Lives. The Commonwealth Fund assessed the performance of healthcare systems in 11 countries based on 72 indicators. And these countries were ranked as following : 

  1. United Kingdom
  2. Switzerland
  3. Sweden
  4. Australia
  5. Germany
  6. The Netherlands
  7. New Zealand
  8. Norway
  9. France
  10. Canada
  11. U.S.A

However, at present the number of active cases in the United States, United Kingdom, Netherlands, Canada & France along with high death rates suggest the rankings otherwise. It is to be noted that the developed countries have recorded a higher increase in cases as well as fatalities indicating lack of administrative decision making. The US is credited to be moving decisively to stabilize financial markets, however, undoubtedly, it has mismanaged the public health. 

The top 10 countries reported to have the best healthcare system in Europe according to the Euro Health Consumer Index (EHCI) were : 

  1. Switzerland
  2. Netherlands
  3. Norway
  4. Denmark
  5. Belgium
  6. Finland
  7. Luxemburg
  8. Sweden
  9. Austria
  10. Iceland

Meanwhile, the present data of Coronavirus cases reported across the whole world nullifies these rankings. The healthcare system of even the most developed countries has been exposed and the myth about their efficiency & advancement have been busted with the mismanagement of COVID-19 situation. 

Taiwan is said to have controlled the virus to a far greater extent than many other nations even after its proximity to Wuhan, where the origin of Coronavirus took place. It is said that the better results of Taiwan has been led by certain preventive measures and a well crafted administration already prepared to fight the virus due to its earlier experience of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2003. 

Let’s understand this with an example of India. The state of Odisha has managed to combat the virus among all other states on a far better scale . The main reason behind the success of Odisha is that it has a well maintained Disaster Management Teams. Various cyclones & floods keep hitting the state, and that has made them prepared to deal with vulnerabilities. There are many communities of volunteers who manage the situation, including evacuating people stranded in unsafe places, making food available to them, etc.during such calamities. The government too has learnt to manage its resources accordingly, which makes a greater impact in such times of crisis.

The countries failing to control the transmission and further the deaths indicates our lack of our preparedness for the pandemic. COVID-19 is only one of many global hazards that threaten our existence. Past warnings of a pandemic were often ignored,the outbreak of SARS 2003 was a wake up call for the world that was ignored. According to a survey, most people see these situations as an economic crisis first & health risk second. 

Meanwhile other disasters occuring amid the Covid-19 pandemic are making things worse. Croatia experienced a 5.5 Richter earthquake, and Vanuatu has been hit by a category 5 cyclone. Viruses do not respect the timelines of other disasters. They do not respect borders or politics. This is why we need global solutions that will still work when we decide to re-open our borders.

  • The most developed nations of the world must now recognize that they have ignored the risk of a pandemic for far too long. A similar disaster had been experienced by the world earlier.
  • Success in managing disaster risk depends on good governance and political commitment. 
  • The solutions are needed across sectors such as water, sanitation and hygiene; education; health and nutrition; livelihoods; child and social protection; shelter and housing; and public open spaces.
  • These solutions must prioritize aid to the most vulnerable. Most of the world’s poor live in countries where public health infrastructure and services are not fit for purpose at the best of times.

The United Nations Secretary-General has called the current situation a human crisis, emphasising that we need to focus on people and the most vulnerable communities. Solutions must cover the need to prevent the spread of COVID-19 as well as the need to respond to the extensive socio-economic impact on people.

This crisis has given us a huge opportunity to reboot how we view economic growth and to recognize what is important for our survival as a species and for the sustainable development of the planet. COVID-19 is a wake-up call. It would be a fatal mistake to reach for the snooze button even now.

—– Anita Pandey

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