By Dr. Karan Thakur
As the world comes to grips with the most latest flu pandemic, the global human and economic toll is only just being ascertained. With over 6000 lives lost, nearly 200,000 infections, closed borders, battered nations and tottering economies, the Covid-19 outbreak will be unlike its more recent previous avatars of the past two decades. The human and societal impact of the outbreak has been felt across borders and has come to show how fragile social order can be when put through such tests. The original hot spots of the outbreak have started showing encouraging signs of abatement, and it is hoped that in the coming weeks the new ‘epicentre’ Europe will also overcome the devastating impact the pandemic has had across countries that make up the continent.
While it is much too early to start tabulating and ascertaining the social, economic and psychological impact the Covid-19 outbreak has or will have, it is worthwhile looking at the likely long term impact this will have on human lives in the future. First some relatively good news. Covid-19 has greatly helped push healthcare workers into the limelight they deserve. These selfless foot soldiers are often hidden, forgotten even, in the good times. Extraordinary times like the one we are going through has shown the incredible work that these brave men and women do, even when global attention and the arc lights move away. Second, researchers, vaccine developers and scientists are today seen as a new-gen army to take on the rising challenge posed by an enemy of humanity as a whole. Third, the outbreak is likely to witness an increase in budgets for vaccine development and into research on new models of their development that can hasten the chain to human deployment. Fourth, the lack of adequate health infrastructure across systems and countries has been amply evidenced. Governments will per force need to create more hospital beds, testing facilities, rehabilitation centres and clinics for preventive medicine in the years ahead. Fifth, the sharing of critical health resources like ventilators and testing equipment between countries has highlighted the need for increased global cooperation to tackle future outbreaks. Six, the primacy and need of global multilateral health agencies like the World Health Organization has been reaffirmed after years of erosion (some deliberate) in stature. As pandemics and disease assume varying forms and affect across borders, multi-lateral and global, cooperation will become indispensable.
While the above are a cause for some optimism in these very bleak times, there are some downsides to the equation. It is anticipated that global travel restrictions will go back to status quo ante post the abatement of the viral spread. However, it is reasonable to foresee a hardening of borders, with greater restrictions in the movement of man and material in the years ahead. Self reliance and the need to reduce cross border dependencies, as has been witnessed in the Chinese dominance of pharmaceutical ingredients that make our medicines, will become stated national policy. The slow decoupling of economic, social and financial dependencies may seem prudent in the current times, but their long term ill effects are well documented from previous paroxysms of such policy outlooks. Further, the current outbreak has demonstrated how political ideologies of self-dependence and harder borders, issues which cannot be linked to the pandemic, have become normative part of the narrative. The use of the pandemic to reassertion political beliefs, without any supportive evidence, has been an unfortunate outcome in recent months. Lastly, xenophobic outlooks on disease outbreaks does great disservice to human health. Often in the past, convenient and sometimes outright racist labels have been attributed to disease outbreaks. This while wholly condemnable, needs societal rejection before it becomes par for the course.
The global response to the pandemic has reiterated shared global values that defines us a race. The lessons from Covid-19 should be ones that show how our common values bind us to fight a common enemy, and not the perfunctory instincts that divide and devastate.