Have rich countries failed the world in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic?
Last week, I wrote how the “benevolence” for the population of a nation has been at the forefront of success of an individual country’s battle against the coeval Covid-19 pandemic. We do live in the modern era, in nation states we call a country, but we are also part of the global community with its intrinsic challenges, and Covid is a pandemic affecting humanity across the globe.
Eradicating or even reducing the impact of Covid in any individual country is not sustainable if the mechanism of eradication or reduction is not addressed equitably all across the international community. Additionally, the impact of Covid is not confined only to the health of human species, but affects all possible socio-political variables, especially targeting and impacting the global economy.
Covid presently is at the helm of the economic disaster looming over the poorer nations, perpetrated by the wealthy countries’ lack of empathy, and failure in providing timely and adequate economic assistance in the worst natural calamity of the century.
The undesired effect of Covid on the economies of those countries, previously exposed to the gross economic disadvantage prior to the start of the pandemic, would be catastrophic, and would compromise the stability of the world order, potentially tipping the balance in favour of the “recruiting sergeant” for extremists and terrorists, says the United Nations under-secretary for humanitarian affairs.
Empathy and generosity played an important role in the response of the world’s wealthy community in the financial crisis of 2008-09. However, the calculated national interest of the high-income economies augmented greatly the human emotions in the said financial crisis.
In contrast, in the ongoing Covid pandemic, the paucity of a consolidated global rescue plan clearly shows a perspective that is liable to have a serious and disastrous impact on the peace and harmony of global human society.
The majority of the wealthy nations have responded decisively to tackle their own crisis, and except during the pandemic’s initial and overwhelming demand on the health care capacity in Europe -- Italy and Spain’s intensive care facilities as well as the overall capacity of their health sector were overrun -- there has been very little collaborative effort on the management of Covid victims through resource-sharing.
At the peak of the Covid attack, Germany actively involved its health care facilities to treat patients from their neighbours, whose capacity to treat critically ill patients had overwhelmed their health facilities, resulting in the increase in the number of their fatalities. A paucity of collaboration is being reflected on the management of the overall impact of Covid -- which is related to the future of humanity, short term and longer.
The Covid situation in Europe and North America was manageable within their own health care capacity. The situation has not been the same in many developing economies in Asia, South America, and Africa, though the data from the Centre for System Science and Engineering at John Hopkins demonstrate that the transmission and dissemination of the virus in terms of case and fatality has been quite asymmetric across countries, sparing some of the poorest countries from its severest impact on case number and death.
However, there is significant dissociation between direct and indirect costs of the pandemic, and low case numbers and death associated with Covid do not necessarily translate into softer economic consequences. Many countries are now experiencing recessions out of proportion to the impact on health, as even minor public health events may herald massive economic disasters in poorer countries due to their inherent vulnerability.
Globalization too is adversely impacting economies through reduction in international demand and value chain disruption.
The chief of UN humanitarian affairs had warned the world community as early as the beginning of May that the global recession consequential to the Covid pandemic would have a devastating and destabilizing effect on the world’s poorest economies, with increasing conflict, violence, hunger, and poverty. He had warned of the gravest economic meltdown in living memory, and appealed to the wealthier economies to change their approach to debts and economic aid to nations not so fortunate.
There had to be a serious adjustment of attitude for wealthy countries, the UN chief believed, towards the world exposed to economic devastation, and set out appeals of more sacrifices on part of the wealthy nations to accommodate the increased requirement of economic help and assistance for poorer nations, in a situation where their own fellow countrymen were losing jobs, freedom, and their close relations. But assist, he believed, they would have to.
Nearly four and a half months has elapsed since his appeal, and the lack of any effective response from the wealthy countries caused him great concern. He now warns the West that for decades to come, they will be haunted by their failure to support the poorer countries cope with the financial and social impact of the Covid crisis.
The West has faced the impact of the pandemic in their own countries head on. The situation continues to be entirely different in poor countries, where there is a significant increase in poverty, starvation, and a fall in life expectancy, amplifying grievances, aggravating conflict, and strengthening the voices of the extremists. The implications reach far and wide.
Dr Raqibul Mohammad Anwar is Specialist Surgeon, Global Health Policy and Planning Expert, and Retired Colonel, Royal Army Medical Corps, UK Armed Forces.