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Every year World Health Day is marked on April 7. This year is different. For the first time, at least in our lives, the globe is fighting a common disease that has touched every continent (save perhaps Antarctica).
Every year World Health Day is marked on April 7. To most, it’s just another day that goes by with no particular attention. At best, it’s an opportunity to post something thoughtful on social media, make a call to action about the issue we work on, or host an event to raise awareness.
This year is different. This year for the first time, at least in our lives, the globe is fighting a common disease that has touched every continent (save perhaps Antarctica). Coronavirus is an unseen enemy with a lot of tricky tactics. It moves silently and it is destructive. And all over the world a war is being waged against it. This year, the imperative of global solidarity in the face of a threat to everyone’s well-being gives World Health Day tangible meaning.
So far, the U.S. government, as with many other countries, has been on the defensive and has focused on the coronavirus response within our borders. Moreover, some leaders across the world, including in the U.S., have suggested that the lesson of the crisis is that our supply chains are too globally integrated, that international cooperation has made us less secure. This might be immediately appropriate given that the primary responsibility of any government is the safety of its own citizens. However, as UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said, “We can only beat this pandemic if we act in solidarity with every country and for every person. No one is safe until we are all safe."
During global chaos and uncertainty, there are valiant examples of global solidarity on display, and more of this will be needed in the weeks and months ahead. Countries are sharing data and lessons learned, ceasefires have been called, countries are sharing and sending healthcare workers and supplies, and scientists are collaborating to develop a vaccine and cure.
The human spirit of compassion, gratitude, and service to others has also extended collective courage and goodwill with community music concerts from balconies at apartment complexes, ‘bear hunts’ for kids in neighborhoods, generosity of time and talent from celebrities, and strength and bravery from frontline healthcare workers. Everyday, heartwarming stories showcase the goodness of humanity.
Now more than ever is a time for us to join our collective grit to push back against the coronavirus. We need to mobilize resources – financial and otherwise – strengthen supply chains and prepare for the long term. We must not lose sight of the fact that it was a failure of international cooperation that enabled an epidemic in China to become a global pandemic.
Strengthening international cooperation will be the key to successful defense against future pandemics. This means a World Health Organization capable of sounding a credible global alarm and mobilizing a robust early response by national governments with the appropriate training, planning, equipment and political commitment. It also means forthright American leadership to build the diplomatic coalitions that will make it harder for countries to avoid sharing information and evade accountability. Even when stay home orders will eventually lift, we have a long way to go.
The recently passed CARES Act provides just over a billion dollars for the U.S. Department of State and USAID, which is an important step toward strengthening the international response. But this amount is barely a drop in the bucket of what the UN estimates will be needed – likely to reach double-digit percentage points of the world’s gross domestic product. It will take robust American engagement with nations around the world, buttressed with credible resources, to ensure that everyone participates to the best of their ability in martialing the needed resources.
As the richest nation on the planet and facing an enemy that doesn’t respect borders or citizenship, we need to play the long game that puts U.S. leadership in front of a collective global response, particularly where the toll could be even greater. We must do this, not only because it is a moral imperative, but because it is in our self-interest: as we have seen, an outbreak anywhere in the world will eventually find its way to America, so America must ensure that outbreaks everywhere in the world are contained.
Now is a tough time for our country and for the world, but it’s not a time to retreat into ourselves. The lesson of history is that the reflex to pull up the drawbridge, as tempting as it is and as comforting as it may seem, just lets problems fester and grow into greater threats. We must continue to band together to ensure that we aren’t leaving anything off the table we’d regret later.