Advertisement

Why the coronavirus fight can only succeed with worldwide cooperation

Developing nations struggle to prepare for COVID-19
The United Nations has sounded the alarm on the devastation COVID-19 will bring developing nations.

As countries across the globe continue to battle the novel coronavirus pandemic, the diplomatic spat between the U.S. and Canada over the export of 3M respirator masks has been just one example of how human (and political) instinct comes in to play during a crisis.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 3M says Canada will continue receiving N95 masks following U.S. deal

It’s the understandable desire to look after your own people first.

The European Union and Turkey have also moved to limit the export of some medical equipment.

The ‘haves’ exerting their power over the ‘have-nots’ has not only been a trend between nations. The same could be seen at the household level, with people all over the world panic-buying and hoarding items like toilet paper, at the potential expense of more vulnerable citizens.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: Without global action against coronavirus pandemic, 40 million could have died: report

From the very start of the crisis, the World Health Organization (WHO) has stressed its desire that nations work together to beat COVID-19.

“This problem can only be solved with international cooperation and international solidarity,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“When health workers are at risk, we’re all at risk.”

“Health workers in low- and middle-income countries deserve the same protection as those in the wealthiest countries.”

In this Monday, March 9, 2020 photo, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization speaks during a news conference on the novel coronavirus COVID-19, at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Accompanying him are Michael Ryan, left, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies program, and Maria van Kerkhove, right, technical lead of WHO’s Health Emergencies program. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP)
In this Monday, March 9, 2020 photo, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization speaks during a news conference on the novel coronavirus COVID-19, at the WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Accompanying him are Michael Ryan, left, executive director of WHO’s Health Emergencies program, and Maria van Kerkhove, right, technical lead of WHO’s Health Emergencies program. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP). Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone via AP

The issue of protecting everyone equally goes beyond the fundamental issue of equality.

It’s also about understanding the very nature of a virus in an inter-connected world.

Story continues below advertisement

In short, if the virus is not tackled properly everywhere, it will come back again, everywhere.

“One of the critical issues that we’re working on globally is to have people understand this is truly a global problem,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of vaccination charity Gavi the Vaccine Alliance.

READ MORE: Could there be a second wave of coronavirus? Experts say it’s possible but unclear

“Nothing tells it like this disease [COVID-19], which started around Wuhan, [China] but in three-and-a-half months, moved to more than 180 countries.”
Story continues below advertisement

Berkley told Global News he worries that if richer countries ignore the developing world, then all other efforts to beat the virus will be in vain.

[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]

He also says the pandemic threatens to kill more people indirectly, by leaving them vulnerable to other diseases.

Gavi has helped vaccinate hundreds of millions of children from diseases like cholera, measles and Ebola.

“We also have 21 countries who are beginning to become short of vaccine supply,” said Berkley.

“The normal supply has been disrupted, because of airlines stopping flights to those countries.”

The front lines

A security guard stands outside the Connaught Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on Friday, Aug. 15, 2014 (AP Photo/Michael Duff)
A security guard stands outside the Connaught Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on Friday, Aug. 15, 2014 (AP Photo/Michael Duff).

In many developing countries medical equipment is in short supply at the best of times.

Story continues below advertisement

READ MORE: ‘State of crisis’: Doctors warn some coronavirus protective gear will run out in days

Dr. Mamadu Baldeh works at the Chest Clinic and Infectious Disease Unit, at Connaught Hospital, Freetown, Sierra Leone.

He has lobbied lawmakers for better equipment in his role as president of the country’s Junior Doctors Association.

“We can not fight a battle when we do not have ammo,” said Baldeh.

“We need to protect ourselves. We have a very limited capacity in terms of doctors. We can not afford to lose anyone (to the virus) at this point in time.”

The west African nation is still emerging from the effects of the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic.

READ MORE: Ebola has killed 2,000 people in ongoing Congo outbreak

Baldeh told Global News there are only a handful of ventilators in the country, and other basic equipment is also hard to find.

“[From] the boots, to the gloves, to the gowns, and to as basic [a thing] as soap to wash your hands after a physical examination. These are things that should be there.”
Story continues below advertisement

Baldeh says the trauma of Ebola means people in Sierra Leone are taking the outbreak seriously.

Corpse in Sierra Leone tests positive for Ebola a day after West Africa declared virus free
Corpse in Sierra Leone tests positive for Ebola a day after West Africa declared virus free

“We came out recently, so the memories are still fresh,” he said.

“So it put us in a position where communication is easy. When you say ‘outbreaks’, people already have their minds prepared.”

READ MORE: Ebola research takes ‘big step’ towards effective treatment: WHO

However most countries have not experienced an epidemic like this in recent memory, and education can be more difficult.

In the developing world, public health systems are often weak, large families live in close quarters, and clean water can be difficult to come by.

Story continues below advertisement

There is no financial support for millions of workers who are currently unable to work, particularly those in the informal, cash economy.

READ MORE: Nearly half a billion people may end up in poverty due to coronavirus crisis: report

The United Nations says more than half the planet has no access to income support.

One man in New Dehli recently told the news agency Reuters “I’d rather die from disease than hunger.”

Seven words that sum up the dreadful dilemma currently facing so many people.

“This is a global pandemic. We’ll need a global response and we’re all going to have to work together to do that,” said Berkley.

“That is going to include equipment, but it’s [also] going to include sharing of science, technology, manufacturing — for example, of vaccines — which are distributed across the world. That’s how we’re going to solve this problem, and we need to keep coming back to that mindset.”
The international race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine
The international race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

Story continues below advertisement

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.