Ordinary citizens will remember which leaders stepped up to the challenge and delivered for their people, rather than retreating into shrill nationalism and the search for scapegoats, writes Gro Harlem Brundtland. First published in The Independent.
Covid-19 has exposed our common and interconnected frailties. No country can tackle the pandemic and overcome its economic and social impact alone.
We need a collective and concerted mobilisation on a scale unseen since the Second World War. We need it to enable universal rapid testing in all countries, develop effective treatments and a vaccine, as well as make sure we can ramp up production and access to those treatments.
This is in all countries’ interests, rich and poor. In a pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe.
Today’s pandemic is of an even greater magnitude than the Sars crisis of 2002-2003. We are living in a radically different geopolitical environment, but it is clear to me that the World Health Organisation (WHO) retains an indispensable role at the heart of the global response to Covid-19.
As well as being the focal point for information sharing between countries about the pandemic, the WHO is playing a key role in coordinating research and development. This includes the recently launched Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) accelerator, a global collaborative effort to speed up the development, production and deployment of safe and effective technologies that can prevent, diagnose and treat the virus.
This is a critical initiative for all of us. Wealthy countries need to contribute to it. They will benefit from its successes.
The Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, of which I am co-chair, has called for an injection of a minimum of $8bn (£6.5bn) to fill the most urgent gaps in the Covid-19 response.
Yet it is becoming clear that additional investment is also needed to build production capacity for a potential vaccine, so that mass production can begin the moment a vaccine is approved. It is estimated that the global economy will save $375bn if vaccine development is brought forward by just one month.
Countries need to pool their resources through the accelerator mechanism. For rich countries, this is not just altruism but self-interest. Currently, individual wealthy countries are seeking to support a few of the top vaccine candidates from domestic firms. But this means they are risking investing in too few vaccines with too little production capacity, and there is a high chance that the vaccines they back will fail.
If we are successful in developing a vaccine, the world will benefit most if the first vaccines available are given to priority groups in all countries, such as vulnerable people, health workers and those most likely to transmit the virus.
As we search for a vaccine, it is also vital that developing and scaling up effective and comprehensive diagnostic testing is not forgotten. Comprehensive and rapid testing can have a major impact on containing the spread of Covid-19 by enabling healthcare professionals to diagnose and treat patients, researchers to monitor hotspots, and policymakers to determine appropriate public health containment measures.
Yet even before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the uptake of diagnostic tests in low and middle-income countries was severely hampered by numerous constraints and market failures including high prices, broken supply chains and complex ordering systems.
There is an urgent need now to fill a critical $750m funding gap for testing, so low and middle-income countries can access simple, low-cost tests to carry out mass testing and increase their technical testing capacity. Our need for global solutions to the Covid-19 crisis illustrates why multilateralism matters, and why the international rules-based system born out of the devastation of the Second World War 75 years ago needs defending, strengthening and revitalising today.
The US was the chief architect of the post-war order, including the United Nations, the WHO, the Bretton Woods institutions and Nato. That same spirit is needed again to help the world recover from the damage wrought by the pandemic, but it has been sorely lacking over the past four years.
Ordinary citizens will have a greater appreciation of the role both of national governments and international cooperation. They will also remember which leaders stepped up to the challenge and delivered for their people, rather than retreating into shrill nationalism and the search for scapegoats.
There will undoubtedly need to be a rigorous and unflinching investigation into the pandemic and how individual countries and international organisations responded.
Responsible leaders at every level should welcome this scrutiny and treat it as an opportunity to better prepare for future pandemics.