Each day, we are inundated with news about the COVID-19 pandemic and how it continues to strain our healthcare system and resources. The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time and the greatest challenge we have faced since World War Two. But the epidemic is much more than a health crisis, and it’s also an unprecedented socio-economic crisis. Stressing every one of the countries it touches, it has the potential to create devastating social, economic, and political effects that will leave deep and longstanding scars. Every day, people are losing jobs and income, with no way of knowing when normality will return. Small island nations, heavily dependent on tourism, have empty hotels and deserted beaches.
The Coronavirus shows us how terrible it is to waste our lives, embroiled in endless battles for wealth and status and power. How awful it is not to recognise the value in the people around us-not just our family and friends, not just colleagues and fellow citizens, but also strangers. How terrible it is not to give our lives meaning - every hour of every day - by honouring the sacredness of life and, according to all living things, the respect, sensitivity, and care that they deserve. Let us not get confused! The coronavirus pandemic is above all a human tragedy, and our hearts go out to all those who have lost loved ones and to those putting themselves at risk to save others. Precisely because of this enormous cost, we must learn as many lessons as we can.What we need first are speed and trust. We learned how much we need an early warning system for future crises, whether from climate change or pandemics. Future global crises may not just come from disease-which is why a warning system like the World Health Organisation’s proposed ‘Epi-Brain’ offers a comprehensive model. Epi-Brain will allow stakeholders to merge public health data with data on the myriad complex factors that drive epidemics, including human and animal population movement, animal diseases, environmental and meteorological factors. Using advances in language processing and machine learning, Epi-Brain will provide a more comprehensive analysis that helps predict outbreaks and their spread.
Access to the internet is essential. As tele-health illustrated, digital access is now like oxygen. Beyond its tragic outcomes for global health, the COVID-19 pandemic has also caused governments to impose travel restrictions, quarantines, along with orders that people work and study at home. The internet has been championed as a remedy for those forced to stay home. And for many, it has undoubtedly been a saviour. Yet COVID-19 has also exposed the underlying reality that not everyone has the internet in their homes—including millions in the wealthiest countries in the world.
We should enhance medical surge capacity. The concept of medical surge forms the cornerstone of preparedness planning efforts for major medical incidents. It is essential, therefore, to define this term before analysing solutions for the overall needs of mass casualty or mass effect incidents. Medical surge describes the ability to provide adequate medical evaluation and care during events that exceed the limits of the normal medical infrastructure of an affected community. COVID-19 showed us, as did the refugee crisis, that the globe cannot assemble a powerful intensive care capacity. This is now a clear challenge for world leaders.
We need health assurance, not insurance. Health assurance denotes a concept of health that goes beyond healthcare. It correctly emphasises the need for providing health in all dimensions, from the promotion of positive health and disease prevention to effective illness care. Furthermore, health assurance encompasses many essential elements of the system, besides the component of financial protection against personal expenditure. COVID-19 proved that the “Internet of You” can support a new era of health assurance. People want to live happy and productive lives without healthcare getting in the way. We now know we can do that.
COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of our lives around the world. On the other hand, public health is inherently concerned with social justice, with fair and equitable distribution of scarce resources to protect, preserve, and restore health. Thus ethics and equity are imperative. The promise of digital medicine is the promise of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, where the tools of artificial intelligence transform all professions. At the same time, healthcare is the ultimate argument for the problematic lesson: that the digital future cannot merely make the wealthy healthier. Digital medicine gives us an unparalleled opportunity to address the social determinants of health and provide access to everyone in their own neighbourhoods.
COVID-19 is a test for democracies, and good governance is the key to success, the Council of Europe experts have stressed. Over a hundred experts and observers from the European Committee on Democracy and Governance (CDDG) shared lessons learned during a recent online meeting. They included the importance of coordination and communication between administrations and civil society, the frontline role of local authorities, and cross border cooperation. Many administrations have developed new working methods, and simplified administrative procedures held online meetings, and provided online access to citizens.
The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates to us the value of freedom - the freedom to move, to be with those we love, to live in dignity and security for ourselves, and for those around us. Above all, it shows us the importance of recognising the real purpose of all our economies and businesses, our political parties and governments, our local civic associations and our international organidsations, our conventions and ideologies, and all our other systems: namely, to serve human needs and purposes.
The coronavirus pandemic challenges us and reminds us of the sad and distressing human experience of previous epidemics. Covid-19, with its human devastation and other dramatic implications, will long mark the world and every human conscience. The crisis it has engendered has paralysed the world, which has become, in the words of German sociologist Ulrich Beck, a “world of risk”. The risk is great and calls for action -“the emergence of global risks shared by all the inhabitants of the planet, and which in themselves are disasters, to react”. We can build equitable and sustainable models for an optimistic future as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.
(The author acknowledges with gratitude the different sources of information.)
The writer is the Assistant Professor, Department of Public Administration, Jagannath University, Dhaka.