An IFI-GHI Commentary
Nasser Yassin and Shadi Saleh | Friday, May 8, 2020
As we write this commentary confined to our homes, our newsfeed is flooded with numbers of COVID-19 infections hitting close to 4 million people across the globe, and still counting [i]. The pandemic has also inflicted serious damages on global – and regional – governing political structures to a degree meriting a revisit of their own raison d’être and mode of operation (or lack of).
The global economic fallout will also be unprecedented as the flows of goods and people got severely disrupted while lockdowns hit the transport, services, and retail industries, among others. In recent years, many around the World have hypothesized on the impact of surging nationalism globally on shaping a new World order [ii]. COVID-19 revealed how nationalism can translate into breaking decade-long alliances presumably built on common values and interests. The question going forward is whether the World post COVID-19 will continue to support this national trend or tilt the balance towards placing more value on globalist approach and values, starting with better global health.
“So far, tackling the COVID-19 pandemic has been predominantly “Westphalian” with a vivid comeback of the nation-state coupled with an undertone of surging nationalism.”
We argue that three stark realities need to be genuinely addressed for building a post COVID-19 order that has to be amply equipped to deal with the next global crisis, as well as the ones on-going for decades. We are sure that other scholars will focus this discussion on many other areas including global trade, philosophy of nation-state, among many others. For the sake of this commentary, we will be focusing on three targeted areas relating to global health and its intersection with overall public policy.
First, there is a need to shelf-away the hitherto practiced doctrine that global crises and problems are confronted through local responses. Such an approach has been the norm in the past decades from the ways the world responded to refugee crises such as the Syrian one or through the maneuvering we have seen around combating climate change during and post Paris Agreement in 2016. So far, tackling the COVID-19 pandemic has been predominantly “Westphalian” with a vivid comeback of the nation-state coupled with an undertone of surging nationalism. While it is understandable that states lead efforts to mitigate the pandemic and slow it down, battling it cannot but happen at the global level with multi-lateral collaboration and joined-up work.
“The last decade has witnessed an overemphasis on technology as the savior and cure of all our ills, which is clearly not enough.”
Second, the COVID-19 pandemic has cautioned us on the need to (re)invest in basic, many may consider naïve and simple, public health functions as well as transparent national and global health monitoring. The last decade has witnessed an overemphasis on technology as the savior and cure of all our ills, which is clearly not enough. We acknowledge the positive and tailored impact of medical technology advancement on many segments of the population. However, from a global cost-effectiveness lens, COVID-19 has proven it is more sensible and largely efficient to invest in the fundamentals first. A call to go back to the basics of public health across populations and communities.
Third, the pandemic is a clear reprimand to discard the mantra that privatization of healthcare delivery system is the solution in favor of viewing health as a public good that needs to be managed and executed by the state and its public sector, be it national, regional or local. The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly proved the cruciality of the ‘Health for All’ approach. The expectation of the population of every single country hit with COVID-19 was that the state should take care of them starting from testing, containment, provision of health care, as well as bringing citizens back to their country. This was even true for countries whose prevailing culture and philosophy valued a minimalist state intervention in all aspects of life. COVID-19 will change how all of us view the role and responsibility of the state. Hopefully, moving forward would result in many of us working towards having a better, more efficient and effective public sector that prioritizes science and evidence over short-term political gain and futile global positioning.
“The pandemic is a clear reprimand to discard the mantra that privatization of healthcare delivery system is the solution in favor of viewing health as a public good that needs to be managed and executed by the state and its public sector, be it national, regional or local.”
COVID-19 is neither the first global crisis that humanity has witnessed nor it will be its last. The critical issue at the moment is to learn from such a pandemic and advance our societies to become stronger and more just, something that the World has not been prioritizing in the past decades. This is, perhaps, a wake-up call.
[I]Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html
Accessed on May 8, 2020
[ii] Foreign Policy, How the World Will Look After the Coronavirus Pandemic, March 20, 2020
Arabic ||| العربية
Nasser Yassin, Interim Director of Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon.
Shadi Saleh, Founding Director of the Global Health Institute at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon.
This is a joint commentary by the Issam Fares Institute and the Global Health Institute at AUB.
This article is part of a new series launched by the AUB Issam Fares Institute to reflect on the impact of the #COVID-19 pandemic on various levels: the economy (global, and national), globalization, multilateralism, international cooperation, public health systems, educational system, refugee response, among other topics.