Rayhan Ahmed Topader
History suggests that global pandemics brought big changes in the health sectors. For example, biomedicine took an institutional shape in the Indian subcontinent as a result of epidemics. During the British colonial rule, the colonial administration brought biomedical physicians from Britain to treat their soldiers and officials who got infected by infectious diseases. The treatment of mass people drew their attention when the death of thousands of people almost crippled trade and commerce in the first half of the 19th century. Initially, the colonial medical facilities started to treat the patients with British doctors, but the scarcity of doctors posed an insurmountable challenge. To circumvent this challenge, gradually medical colleges were established in different parts of undivided India to produce native doctors. German sociologist Ulrich Beck and British sociologist Anthony Giddens propounded the idea of risk society to describe the consequence of modernity. Modernization may have heightened the risk of civilization, but risks such as pandemics have deep connections with the processes of human migration which happened through wars, expeditions, and trades. Throughout human history, the severity of global pandemics had been correlated with the speed, intensity, and extensity of globalization. Humans progressed by negotiating with the pandemics and ushered in more prosperous societies. We shall also overcome the current pandemic caused by COVID-19. What kind of society will emerge as its consequence? Let’s anticipate.
In our era of deliberate misinformation, fake social news and divisive political propaganda, we now have an opportunity to rediscover science as a reliable arbitrator and a guide to informed decision making. COVID-19 has already helped to elevate trust in credible mainstream scientists and thereby reversed the decade-old trend of eroding trust in established institutions. According to a recent New York Times article, the voice of science has become indispensable to inform policymakers and the public on how to deal with the pandemic. The fact that scientists collaborate across borders, even in the light of political divides, adds further credentials to their efforts, and their pursuit of the public good often trumps narrow interests. Moving forward, scientists should be encouraged to play a greater role in public debates and policymaking and the public should be encouraged to take a greater interest in science and support their work.Human history and natural history can no longer be separated human health and the health of the planet go together. Mother nature is striking back, and humans are caught on their back feet,” is how a senior finance executive recently summed up the pandemic. Indeed, the pandemic should above all be a wakeup call that our wellbeing is closely tied to the health of the planet. Despite scientists warnings about the high risk of animal-borne infectious diseases, we continue to destroy natural habitats. The evidence of the destruc- tive human impact on the natural environment from water to soil to the air, and its negative impact on human health and wellbeing, is overwhelming.
Green and inclusive growth is no longer a nice thing to have. It is the only way to prevent the next crisis which, according to scientists, could well turn out to have an even greater destructive impact than COVID-19.Former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan referred to climate change, diseases and terrorism as ‘problems without passports’ that cannot be stopped at the border and that can only be tackled if we cooperate. The premium for cooperation is growing as global threats are becoming national security threats A virus can’t be stopped at borders and climate change does not respect national sovereignty. Yet,sadly,international cooperation has given way to strategic rivalry and fragmenting power blocks. The Paris Agree ment of 2015, which had China’s and the USA’s cooperation, seems like from another era. The United Nations’ recent call for cooperation to deal with the pandemic was hardly noticed and its most important organ, the Security Council, is “missing in action”.Some political observers fear that the pandemic may accelerate existing divergences, superchar-ging nationalism and undermining free trade even further, leading to a world in even greater disarray. Indeed, ancient power concepts and myths of the past still set the tone and have not evolved since Thucydides, despite the growing interdependence of humanity and the many lessons history has taught us. Policy makers seem to have no grasp of “global public goods” and their importance for national security.
Over time nature will force our hands, whether we are prepared or not. The idea of a “common enemy” may sound outlandish to many at this point, but COVID-19 demonstra- tes that conventional power concepts are no longer useful when dealing with global threats The notion of “global stewardship” and the imperative to build stronger collaborative bonds across and between nations will ultimately become a necessity. Human security needs more than military deterrence: it needs a new focus on good stewardship for the life-supporting services that nature provides and a collective willingness to improve the state of affairs everywhere. No country is prepared for the next pandemic if the rest of the world is not. And no country can stop the impact of climate change alone. COVID-19 gives us an opportunity to change course in this direction. Heeding UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ call to better coordinate and mobilize efforts to deal with the impact of the pandemic in less developed countries would be a good first step for the better. Commerce has long acted as a bridge-builder between nations by connecting cultures and people, not through military power, but by spreading knowledge, mutual understanding and economic benefits. The world will remain deeply interconnected also in the post-COVID-19 era, and economic interdependence will remain the most viable pathway to secure peaceful co-existence and prosperity.
The sustainability movement will gain further relevance in the post-COVID-19 era. For corporations and investors, the need to align strategies with a broader purpose that speaks to the needs of society will be the key to growing and building trust. The pandemic has put a spotlight on human vulnerability and the fact that human safety and the health of the natural environment go hand in hand. This may well reinforce existing consumer trends towards healthier and more sustainable lifestyles. Environmental priorities are bound to gain greater strategic relevance over time and far-sighted executives will use the current crisis to accelerate decarbonization and to resource-efficiency measures. And arguably most important of all, the pandemic has acted as an accelerator for everything digital. Innovation and new business models will enjoy a premium and will give a boost to automation, resource efficiency and decarbonization, touching all segments of the economy. Moreover, digitalization and better smart data analysis are the fuel that drives ESG investing. Early evidence is already suggesting that ESG investing is gaining greater relevance in the light of the pandemic. Moving forward, the convergence between corporate sustainability and sustainable investing offers unprecedented opportunities to renew markets from within.
Human civilization progressed through fighting pandemics by inventing antidotes to them. Now many remedies including vaccines to treat the coronavirus have been undergoing trials in Asia, Europe, and North America. Eventually, humans will conquer it or will learn to somehow cope with it.However, the ongoing pandemic has exposed the holes in the healthcare systems across the world. Many people have died without having treatment. The situation shows grimmer and scarier in countries like Bangladesh where health care facilities are fragile and deficient. It invokes the states to make massive investments in healthcare. And, it is time to bid farewell to the neoliberal policies of privatization and liberalization in healthcare and their local and foreign defendants. While coping with the crisis, we have an opportunity to rediscover basic values of humanity and the bonds that connect us. We now have it in our hands to lay the foundation for a safer, healthier and cleaner life on planet earth. We have the technology and the means to come out stronger if we understand that human wellbeing and the health of the planet are two sides of the same coin. Now is the time to retire old dogmas and to give way to a fresh start.
Writer and Columnist
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