The Nigerian political leader and economist Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala makes the excellent point in an article in Foreign Affairs, that “It is now abundantly clear that the world cannot fully emerge from its current state of novel coronavirus lockdown until a vaccine is found. Never before have so many lives, livelihoods, and economies depended so much on a single health intervention. But as scientists race to develop potential vaccine candidates, the international community must remember that the ultimate goal is not only to produce a safe and effective inoculation but to bring the pandemic to an end. And that can happen only after billions of doses are produced affordably and made available to everyone, particularly those in low-income countries.” In other words, she says, and of course, she’s right: no one is safe until we are all safe. We can vaccinate all the Australians and Brits and Canadians and Danes and Estonians, too, but if we don’t vaccinate the Fijians, the Ghanaians, the Hondurans and the Indians, too then the
“An enterprise on this scale,” she says “requires a new perspective: vaccines must be recognized as global public goods. Neither domestic agendas nor profit can be allowed to drive the effort for the largest vaccine deployment in history. Governments, pharmaceutical companies, and multilateral organizations must work together to develop, produce, and deliver the vaccine. Producing and distributing billions of doses of a new vaccine would be challenging at the best of times. Doing so during a pandemic will require an unprecedented global effort.” Now, I believe that profit is the motive that will, in all likelihood, get the best vaccines to the greatest number of people most quickly. But while I suspect that some sort of public-private-partnership is most likely to work in the most utilitarian (and, therefore, in my opinion, the best) manner there will be a need for coordinated, generous, international action (charity) to ensure that the vaccine gets to everyone.
The same principle must apply to investigating this, most recent, outbreak so that we, the peoples of the world, can work together to try to prevent another one. That means that China should cooperate in the investigation, not try to impede it. That means that the investigation must be fair and impartial and that means that President Trump, for one, must not be involved. It seems to me that the World Health Organization (WHO) is the most likely organization to investigate and make recommendations, but:
- Many nations are suspicious of the WHO’s leadership and of the motives of some of its experts. This is, in some part, because China is thought to have too much influence; but
- President Trump’s decision to withdraw US funding for the WHO hamstrings it just when it is needed most.
There are alternatives to the WHO. For example, it might be better if, say, the G-20, which includes America and China amongst its members, established a committee of health experts to examine why and how this pandemic happened with a view to protecting the world from more of the same. Xi Jinping might either boycott the process or simply lie but at least top-level scientists and officials from America, Australia, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, India, Japan, Russia and South Korea would be able to ask questions and come up with some answers. I would oppose creating a new G-something, but since the G-20 was created to deal with economic issues in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, the Great Recession, and since the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to be far worse, perhaps even a repeat of the Great Depression, it might be the right body to examine this pandemic.
The current pandemic affects the whole world. The next one might come from anywhere … perhaps rural China, again, perhaps Africa where the sale and consumption of “bush-meat” are still too common. Perhaps even from North America where we have had too many instances of livestock and food contamination. Assigning blame is NOT the goal, no matter what Donald Trump. might think; the correct aim is to help prevent another, even worse, pandemic. We, in North America, Australia and Europe are not safe until everyone is safe … everyone in Angola, Bangladesh, China, Djibouti and so on, all the way through to Zambia and Zimbabwe.
China may, as I said, yesterday, be a bully and worse, but that does not mean that we, the US-led West and the entire global community, should not try to work with it, and with others, to try to protect us all from disasters like the COVID-19 pandemic. We, Canadians, should stand, foursquare against the Chinese Communist Party regime but we should also stand with the Chinese people and we should want to work with them to prevent future disasters.