Viruses do not respect borders. It is time for multilateralism
The video conference (Covid- 19) between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the other leaders of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) to discuss a common response to the novel coronavirus (Covid- 19) is a welcome change from the global pattern of raising drawbridges. South Asia has reason to work together. The region is fronted by China and Iran, two key centres of transmission, and its borders are so porous as to be non-existent.
Epidemiologists have predicted for years that pandemic influenza would be the most likely source of a global health crisis (Covid- 19). These studies also called for an international response, arguing piecemeal national policies would be ineffective. Despite this, all governments have responded with panicked isolation, often driven by political considerations. The Saarc effort will hopefully mark a reversal, at present symbolic, of this trend. Earlier outbreaks, like Sars and Ebola, inspired international civil society initiatives. This has had some limited success. But they have received only half-hearted interest from governments. Even the World Health Organization has struggled with funding.
When the present crisis is over, the world needs to find a new collective mindset regarding pandemics. A multilateral surveillance and prevention health system should be the first priority. Second, consideration should be given to creating an international public-private partnership focused on vaccine development and coordinating emergency medical supply production. Third, protocols on cross-border movement of people, goods and the like during a pandemic should be worked out. The present response has been marked by arbitrariness. Finally, governments must be persuaded about the need to be fully transparent about health problems. India, given its own health care experience, pharmaceutical capacities and reasonable record in handling disease-related emergencies, can well play a leading role in this regard. Saarc is a suitable first step.
Source: Hindistan Times |
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