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One Pandemic, One Planet: The Impetus for Global Solidarity

ISSUE 2020
No 13
Release 23 April 2020
By HIBBERT Kathy*, PhD, CHHEM Rethy**, MD, PhD (Edu), PhD (His)

The threat of a global pandemic has been predicted by scientists for decades. Until now, many countries have been able to view those threats as peripheral to their own experience. The SARS-CoV-2 has shocked the world into slowly acknowledging that physical borders, strong economies and travels bans are insufficient tools against this unyielding and deadly foe. Global attempts to combat the spread of the virus include preventative measures and tracking efforts, but they also reveal that as a global society, we have not yet come to terms with the fact that we inhabit one planet. To prevail in the fight against this pandemic, we must apply the lessons learned from our collective past, and understand that the fragility of our human existence depends on genuine international cooperation by thinking in terms of “One Health”.

Historically, pandemics have existed as waves of diseases, that were accompanied by hate or conspiracy theories, as people seek to blame anyone and anything about the sources of the disease. In 430 B.C., the Plague of Athens was attributed to the poisoning of wells, and later to Athen’s leader, Pericles for his decision to continue a battle with Sparta. Cultural practices, lifestyle and perceived immorality, have appeared out of insecurities and weak efforts to assuage worried populations, about their own susceptibility and individual capacity to manage risk. Assessing risk and placing blame provide a sense of certainty amidst chaos of the unknown.

While scientists have studied each emerging disease carefully, societies have historically failed to learn their social dimensions. Global responses to pandemics throughout history have documented that nations are quick to blame each other, based on a perception of where the disease was first identified (e.g. the Black Death in the mid 1300s led to the slaughter of Catalans in Sicily and the conviction of Jews suspected of poisoning drinking water). Out of fear and panic, emerge social tensions that are deeply entangled with beliefs about racism, colonialism, class, gender and religious affiliation. Marginalised groups become even more vulnerable as their reduced access to food and health care, increases their susceptibility to disease.

Those living in privileged countries grew smugly accustomed to the effects of previous pandemics largely affecting the more vulnerable groups, and they became complacent. This complacency has contributed to an unwillingness to accept the reality of how COVID-19 was spreading, and its ability to touch them. Those who accepted the threat early and responded aggressively have demonstrated an ability to manage the effects of the disease within their nation. Those who have denied the warnings from scientists, or erroneously downplayed its seriousness, are now ill-equipped to manage the significant impact on their human and material resources.

How did we get to this point? In part, our lack of a collective humanitarian response is a direct result of failing to deeply learn from and understand the lessons of our past. Pandemics do not cause hate; rather they reveal existing social tensions manifested through fear. When the fearful can no longer ignore the capacity that this virus has demonstrated to cross any border: physical, spiritual, age, race and so on, the blame shifts to governments, to other nations or industries who have focused heavily on a capitalist agenda, placing profit before people. However, the time has passed for us to rely on this age-old strategy. It is now time for us to instead, take responsibility collectively to think differently about the survival of all our people, our environment and biodiversity, and life as we know it – on the planet we all share.

The response we need, accepts that our own, individual health and wellness is inextricably connected to the health and wellness of us all. We have a complex array of biometrics, technologies and scientific knowledge that we need to bring together in a responsible and ethical way to battle this disease. COVID-19 has issued a call to the world, in finding a way to work as one. Pooling our resources into a “One Health” response is not only what we need to fight this pandemic, but the next one, which will most certainly arise if we continue to encroach on Earth’s biodiversity.

Our capacity to emerge triumphant requires us to finally shed a different kind of virus: the diseases of racism, sexism, classism and all other prejudice – to heal ourselves, and our planet. Let this pandemic galvanise our desire to make this, a battle for humanity. Facing the dreadful challenges of a global pandemic, engaging in blame games amongst superpowers, imagined conspiracy theories, and immoral geopolitical calculations, may turn a coordinated health response into a catastrophe that affects all nations. Our planet shares a global threat: this response demands global solidarity, through continuous international dialogue and action across all geographic and ideological boundaries.

The views expressed are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of the Asian Vision Institute.