At this time, the deadly Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has halted the world, and it seems that we are not yet ready to neutralize it. This is not the first time we are facing such a devastating situation. Throughout the course of human history, disease outbreaks have ravaged humanity, sometimes changing the course of history and, at times, signaling the end of entire civilization to an extent.
Around 430 B.C.E., Plague ravaged the people of Athens, lasted for five years, and took estimated 100,000 lives. The Black Death (1346-53) had left devastation in its wake in Europe. Some estimates suggest that it wiped out over half of Europe’s population. Some of the recent pandemics are Spanish Flu (1918-20), due to which an estimated 500 million people were infected and one-fifth of those succumbed. Ebola (2014-16), which spread across West Africa with 28,600 cases and 11,325 deaths.
Humans have a tendency to learn from failures and make reactive decisions. However, it seems that we have not learned and prepared ourselves from past events (rather totally forgot the sacrifice of our ancestors). We are fighting it as if we are facing such a pandemic for the first time. Coronavirus has not failed us, but it is a result of a failure in three key aspects.
Politics – Art of Inviting Troubles:
In this difficult time, the politics of retaliation and blame games are at a peak. Instead of focusing on solution-oriented strategies, they are striving to get a pat on the back for damage control instead of preventing such a vulnerability. None of the political campaigns or world forums have taken the topic of environment and public health seriously in this capitalist era.
COVID-19 shows that where there is bona fide political will, there is a way to work across sectors. Last year, a consortium of U.S. and British Foundations has published the ‘Global Health Security Index’, which specifies the state of the capability of countries for rapidly responding to epidemic and pandemics. The index presents every country as ill-prepared but surprisingly bets that the U.S. and Britain are best prepared to deal with a pandemic. On the contrary, the report failed to take into account an element of political will. While Trump spent months saying everything is under control; Boris Johnson was more focused on Brexit than Coronavirus. Today, both these countries are on the top chart in terms of the number of casualties.
Health is socially determined. To improve health, coordinated action is required between ministries that do not have health as their core mandate. WHO has set out a coherent approach to health policies called “Health in All Policies” which has been adopted by a number of countries, but by no means all. Coronavirus has dramatically highlighted the need for a more integrated healthcare system, and this can only be achieved by strong political will.
Leadership – A Game of Wisest:
After COVID-19 Pandemic, it will be time to commend the work of medical professionals, police, sweepers, shopkeepers who played their role in preventing the virus from spreading at personal health risk as well as cost. In the future, response to COVID-19 will be nothing more than a case study in crisis management because it has already failed a fundamental test of leadership. The leader is the one who takes preventive measures and always looks ahead on possible solutions to any given problem.
There is a well-known parable in public health circles called Upstream Thinking. It goes like this:
Two friends are sitting by a river when they spot a child drowning in the water. Both friends immediately dive in and pull the child to safety. But, as soon as they do that, another child drifts into view. Then another. After completing several rescues, one of them climbs out of the water.
“Where are you going?” the other friend asks,
“I’m going to upstream to tackle the guy who’s throwing all these kids in the water.”
All the leaders in the current situation have focused on targeting the symptoms rather than the problem itself.
Many reports in the past have signaled about the threat of a global pandemic. We knew what was coming for 20 years. SARS, MERS, Swine Flu, Bird Flu, and Ebola – all demonstrated the clear danger. Despite the threat was knocking our door, none of our leaders have recognized it to an extent to prevent the next toll.
Since the inception of humanity, we have evolved in every field by innovation and have learned from our mistakes. We have made it to the Moon and Mars; we have weapons capable of destroying the whole world; nations are eyeing towards building space forces to fight an unknown extraterrestrial enemy that they do not even know exists. Albeit, we are not yet fully prepared to fight an invisible enemy that exists among us, even at the cost of humanity.
Now it is time to consider our political leaders as our servant instead of venerable.
Money – The Root of All the Evils:
We don’t know exactly whether Coronavirus originated from Wuhan’s wet market, a lab, or anywhere else; but there may lie the greed of money behind every possible reason.
Global leaders gather at Davos every year to talk about power, money, and technology – mostly about its potential for making money. They have not focused on the No. 1 responsibility – the safety of the people. Instead of protecting people, they spent trillions of dollars bailing themselves out after creating the 2008 global financial crisis through their greed. Financial assistance for the unemployed and needy is necessary, but bailing out big business is hard to justify.
While we have the compulsion upon us to pay taxes, we do not have any right to control or to give our opinion about its fair usage. India invests less than 2.5% of GDP in healthcare, while it allocates more than 5 times of health budget for defense. If leaders would have thought about building a more sustainable and proactive health care system instead of collecting the best arrow in the quiver, we could have prevented the catastrophe or at least have ‘armed’ for it.
Since Coronavirus has disrupted the entire economic cycle, millions of people may not have enough money to fulfill their necessities even for a short period. It is not their fault, but they have to suffer because of the greed or ignorance of others. The concept of money is the most disruptive and destructive. We cannot eliminate this concept, but we have to rethink it.
We have to rethink how to use the money for achieving safety and equality. If an elite class has had focused more on the safety of humanity, casualties would have been hundred times less and the economy would have least been off track.
Birth is not our choice, but how to live, certainly is. What prevents us from living up to our choices is the concept of money for most of us. Money is what prevents the majority from equality, better education, better healthcare, and better way of life. Why only politicians and the top 10% be heard and should have the right to influence others’ lives?
Written by: Shyam Sony