Importance of international cooperation and multilateralism
The COVID-19 crisis is an alarming call for multilateralism and international cooperation, which has been absent so far. International cooperation is not just useful but it is indispensable. Containing, countering, and eliminating a virus of this sort requires a co-operative, transparent, science-based global response. Shutting down borders and adopting protectionist policies heed no good. Afterall the virus knows no borders. Below are a few ways international cooperation could help in overcoming the next epidemic.
1. Scaling up of medical capacity for treatment and testing - Mobilising health workers is at the heart of standing up against COVID-19. At the same time, it is very critical to ensure they're safe while providing medical care to infected patients. Therefore the medical workers must have sufficient medical supplies, right from Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to swabs to carry relevant tests. However, amidst the pandemic, we saw an acute shortage of medical supplies. Supply failed to meet exceeding demand. This forced countries to ban exports to meet domestic demand. Banning exports could hinder global efforts to tackle the virus along with artificial price rise, meaning poorer countries would not be able to put up an effective response. In future pandemics, governments should cooperate to ensure trade openness, while scaling up global medical and testing capacity, enabling access to vital medical goods at affordable prices. Protectionist policies should cease to exist.
2. Coordinated efforts for vaccine development and deployment - A vaccine is the world's best bet to get rid of any pandemic. However, vaccines will be effective only when it is available at affordable prices everywhere. This means that countries should cooperate rather than compete to ensure speedy development and efficient distribution. Similarly, bidding wars for vaccines must be avoided at all costs. Currently, for the COVID-19 vaccine, there has been the International Finance Facility for Immunisation's vaccine bonds, and advanced market commitments proposed by GAVI, the vaccine alliance . In addition to this manufacturing facilities should be set up, as the research and development of the vaccine take place parallelly. Lastly, an international allocation system for the fair distribution of vaccines must be agreed upon beforehand. Also, constant support to strengthen the delivery capacities of developing countries is key to ensuring vaccine access for the vulnerable population.
3. Continued surveillance to detect re-emergence of the virus - There is a very strong need for a collaborative approach towards virus reporting and surveillance. This includes monitoring of the mutated virus strains. In the initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic, efforts to contain the virus were hampered due to inaccurate and slow reporting of the virus. WHO states that if we need to assess the progression of the pandemic, we must share information continuously, rapidly, widely, and freely across borders . However, there do exist roadblocks such as data ambiguity and a lack of common measurement methodologies. Clear guidance and international standards are required to overcome these roadblocks. Digital technologies should also be made use of such as smartphones and apps for tracking and tracing, this will ensure effective disease surveillance and control.
4. Continuous and strong support for lesser developed countries - The virus will have a more severe impact on lesser developed and developing nations when compared to the developed ones. Broken healthcare systems, funding shortages, and medical health worker shortages are just a few of the problems that poorer nations have to grapple with.
Information/knowledge sharing about protocols of screening and treatment can be of immense help for lesser developed nations. Countries that have a headstart in dealing with the pandemic can play a crucial role here. Additionally, containment measures (closure of schools and offices) and other pandemic-related movement restrictions will be hard to implement given the economic fallout and rising poverty that will arise as a consequence. The presence of a large number of informal workers means that governments will find it difficult to offer them social protection. Therefore, along with knowledge sharing fiscal support must also be extended by developed nations and various other organisations.
COVID-19 is an existential threat that has changed the way we live our lives forever. In the absence of international cooperation and multilateralism, recovery and elimination of the virus is going to be slow. Coordinated disease surveillance, quick and effective vaccine development and deployment will all benefit under multilateralism action.
While the COVID-19 crisis has wreaked havoc across the world, we must look at this as an opportunity to introduce strong reform. In the healthcare and education space, technology will play a crucial role. If utilised appropriately, its impact can be profound and far-reaching. However, the threats that arise out of them must also be curtailed for its widespread utilisation. For governments, the pandemic is a wake-up call to stop pursuing the path of panic and neglect for it always leads to catastrophe and devastation. Smart governments will seize the opportunity and recognize the vulnerable souls in our interconnected, crowded, and environmentally stressed planet before making use of humanity's intelligence to devise solutions. With regards to international cooperation and multilateralism, we need to remember that we are only as strong as the weakest link in the global health system.