Corona Pandemic: Lesson learned for the global community

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No one is safe until everyone is safe. More than ever, global community has to work together to address this emergency global health situation if we want to gain herd immunity. We cannot allow vaccine nationalism to rule. We have learned that the first wave of the pandemic caused nations to turn inward

Adam M. Tugio

Special to Islamabad POST

More than sixteen months since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in Wuhan, the world is still facing pressing challenges to find effective ways to curtail the unprecedented spread of the virus and to save the precious human lives.  Inoculation programs have been rolled out in various parts of the world earlier this year. Yet, they have been insufficient to respond to the rapid spreading of more infectious new variants of COVID-19.The pharmaceutical companies have been in a race to produce Corona vaccines, like racing towards the Mars. However, their production capacity remains inadequate to meet the high demand. To make the situation worse, some countries are buying the vaccines more than they genuinely require, leaving other majority in need behind. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has spread with phenomenal speed, infecting millions and bringing economic activity to a near-standstill as countries imposed tight restrictions on movement to halt the spread of the virus. As of 16 May 2021, more than 163 million cases have been confirmed, with more than 3.37 million deaths attributed to corona virus, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in history. What we are witnessing that the fast spreading of corona virus has converted the global health emergency crisis into multi-dimensional global crisis.As the health and human toll grows, the economic damage is already evident and represents the largest economic shock the world has experienced in decades.

In the light of this background, I can identify some lessons learned from this pandemic for reflection. First, no single country is immune from COVID-19 virus. We can go further to browse the Worldodometer.com to get an update on the latest developments. Globalization has accelerated the spread of viruses. Increased mobilization and international traveling have further contributed to make COVID-19 pandemic a catastrophic new chapter. As countries around the globe started closure of their borders, the pandemic wreaked havoc to global supply chain of manufactured goods. And as the virus has spread around the globe, concerns have shifted from supply-side manufacturing issues to decreased business in the services sector. All fashion, entertainment, sport, and technology events have been canceled or have been shifted online. While the monetary impact on the travel and trade industry is yet to be fully estimated and understood, it is likely to be in the loss of hundreds of billions of dollars.

Second, the COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching economic consequences beyond the spread of the disease itself and efforts to contain it.The pandemic plunged most countries into recession last year, with per capita income contracting in the largest fraction of countries globally since 1870. These downturns are expected to reverse years of progress toward development goals and push tens of millions of people back into extreme poverty.Over the broader horizon, the deep recession triggered by the pandemic are expected to leave lasting scars through lower investment, an erosion of human capital through lost work and schooling, and fragmentation of global trade and supply linkages.

Third, the extra ordinary situation posed by this pandemic has to be responded by extra ordinary measures in order to make prevention measures works. The nature of this new pandemic brings a lot of uncertainties on the efficacy of the vaccines, and potential long-term side effects of newly developed MNRA based vaccines. Some even questioned the legal basis for the procurement since interested states have to make advance payment without guarantee should clinical trials fail. Noting this extra-ordinary situation, we need to be open-minded to understand the pressing challenge posed by countries around the globe to take a prompt yet extra-ordinary measures. In doing so, they have to make necessary but urgent adjustments on various aspects of governance in order to prevent the imminent danger to the health of their citizens. The unprecedented pandemic, therefore, requires an unprecedented global response.

Fourth, countries need to improve their own public health care to adequately provide immediate response in time of crises, and to become more resilient.  During initial phases of pandemic, we learned widespread reports of shortages of face mask, gloves, and other health protection gears. We observed also panic buying and consequent shortages of food and other essential grocery items. Raw materials for Remdesiviror Dexamethasone were difficult to be found in the market, making countries unable to produce those drugs.

Indonesia is equally affected by this pandemic and therefore has designed a strategy to tackle this pandemic. It is a three-pronged strategy which consisting of addressinghealth emergency situation; allocating safety net for social protection program; and providing stimulus for SME industries and to boost domestic consumption. The budget amounted to USD 48 Billion was allocated to meet these ends last year alone. Some amounts were reserved to improve our public health system, promote research & development in the health sector, including helping the national pharmaceutical companies to produce homegrown COVID-19 vaccines. As we know, current global manufacturing capabilities are far below what is actually needed – only about a dozen countries have the capacity to produce COVID-19 vaccines.

Fifth, increasing role of scientific-based evidence for policy recommendations. The pandemic has taught us to listen to the experts. Governments around the globe have appointed eminent scientists to lead them in making health policy’s recommendations for effective COVID-19 prevention. Health protocols are being implemented taking into account their recommendations. The use of Information Technology has been promoted to monitor and control the spread of viruses. We have witnessed painfully clear evidence of rising cases of infections if we fail to honor their recommendations e.g. to stay home, wearing mask if we go out, or avoiding the crowds. As the vaccination is up against a new set of challenges due to more contagious new strains of the virus, we need to pay close attention to scientists’ recommendations.

Sixth, no one is safe until everyone is safe. More than ever, global community has to work together to address this emergency global health situation if we want to gain herd immunity. We cannot allow vaccine nationalism to rule. We have learned that the first wave of the pandemic caused nations to turn inward. As corona virus is proceeding in waves, what is clear is that the virus and its aftermath likely to be with us for some time.Consequently, fair and equitable access for vaccines is therefore imperative. It is better to have some vaccines to all countries rather than to have vaccination to all people in some countries. Likewise, the waiving off the intellectual property protections on corona vaccines is needed to help end the pandemic.COVID-19 vaccines should be considered a global public good so that manufacturers in all countries would be able to get access to produce vaccines for all.  We should seize momentum where the global efforts are involved to develop and distribute an effective vaccine with several promising options. The accelerated development of multiple vaccines is unprecedented – the process typically takes five to fifteen years.

Seventh,I anticipate new health protocols for new normal situation to govern our future activities.  People are now more aware to maintain their health and well-being. And they will not be hesitant to accept COVID-19 vaccine passports to allow them to continue business and travelling around the world. I expect that sports events and entertainment industries which invite larger audience will also require spectators to undertake rapid PCR test that is being developed now, before entering the stadiums, theaters or even restaurants. Natural law dictates that every a while the global community will experience an outbreak of new viruses. Despite consistent global efforts to increase public health and improving prevention, the incidents of SARS, MERS, Ebola outbreaks have occurred in the recent past.

As a pundit says “outbreaks are inevitable but pandemics are optional” – thus corona pandemic teaches us to enhance global cooperation by sharing knowledge and lessons learned if we want to succeed in the prevention to flatten the trajectory. Probably, it is time to reflect the wisdom of crowd sourcing method whereby scientists and practitioners are encouraged to contribute their knowledge. This is particularly relevant to address the challenge posed by developing countries due to existing communicable diseases, which are threatening their population. The pharmaceutical companies may have different priorities and more likely to be interested in finding magic pills to cure hair loss than curing TBC or dengue fever due to big potential markets for the former.

Finally, there have been some good news of increasing global cooperation. G-7 nations have committed billions of dollars toward equitable vaccine access over the next two years. Multilateral initiatives such as COVAX and individual governments are investing billions of dollars to expand production plants. And COVAX has been starting distribution of COVID-19 vaccines for developing countries.  By joining hands together with enhanced collaboration at the global level, we can surely yield positive results in controlling this life-threatening pandemic. The collaborative efforts and exchange of knowledge and experience have always been the best effective ways to overcome any situation of dangerous crisis – a lesson learned from the human history. 

The writer is the Ambassador of Indonesia. Views expressed in this article are personal.