And it is fair to say, that all the lessons we’ve learned (so far) from this pandemic, the most significant is how unequal its effects have been as we must also accept that we are not capable of managing a Pandemic locally, nor even globally - and, it is not just about the fact that vaccination cannot be the entire strategy.
Saying this, we need to prepare for a very different world to come! A world, where many of these uncertainties hold many challenges, obstacles, risks and even a lot of danger for us to be confronted with. But equally, also many chances for a better world will arise in front of our eyes - if we want to see them!
2021 - The Challenges, How To Change Now?
Let's start with one of the aspects we need to clarify if looking ahead: one major obstacle looking at the medical (clinical) aspects of Covid-19 are the uncertainties over the duration of immunity, its mutations, or such as the impact on transmission, or the restrictions on its use in some populations (eg children, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers) - in short: vaccination can complement but not supplant other necessary aspects or "interventions".
As just one example: it is impossible to educate (children, students, workforce), work or live a productive life under such constraints: think of closing schools, especially primary schools. It's one thing secondary schools moving to online learning, parents staying home in the western or developed world, but not all kids, especially those from deprived backgrounds, have electronic devices, suitable to engage in schooling from home - most of the world, like Africa or even parts of the USofA, Russia and Asia does not have this luxury!
And the most scary is that the biggest danger with all this is the fact that more pandemics can be on the way not only due to the way we live, the way we farm, the way we eat, the way climate is going to change, but because nature rules.
Something that will soon become a much bigger challenge for the world is the looming food crises, that will hit the planet in 2021.
The United Nations (UN) has warned that the world is on the brink of its worst food crises in at least fifty years. The pandemic has disrupted global food supply chains. And with more people falling in extreme poverty as a result of the economic damage inflicted by Covid-19, raising food prices could not come at a worse time.
The UN forecasts that more people will die of Covid-19 related malnutrition and its associated diseases than from the coronavirus. That doesn't take into account the toll for those who survive; childhood malnutrition has lifelong health and mental repercussions. Countries like Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria and Burkina Faso may already be suffering famine conditions. Afghanistan, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Lebanon, Mali, Mozambiquw, Niger, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe are not far away from it.
Even in advanced economies, the poor are suffering from higher food prices at a time of high unemployment. Again, in the United States, more than one in five households are now food insecure!
What have we learned now?
If we wanted to run an experiment on Earth to understand human behaviour, the pandemic would be the perfect opportunity. In some people, the virus that causes Covid-19 has no symptoms. In others it leads to deadly disease. The virus pits the healthy against those with underlying health issues, and the young against the old.
Infectious diseases can bind us together or drive us apart. Low-income countries know this too well; many face multiple outbreaks of infectious diseases each year, just think of Malaria, Cholera, Hepatitis, Yellow fever and alike in Africa. But richer countries such as the EU, Britain or the USofA are still painfully learning that a virus doesn’t just attack the human body: it holds up a mirror to national weaknesses and runs havoc across society and the economy.
Across the world, the pandemic has resulted in a perverse form of “Hunger Games”, where countries have competed in mortality rate league tables while also trying to save their economies and cope with successive waves of this disease.
In February and March, European governments chased down limited PPE stocks, ventilators, oxygen, out-of-stock reagents for their labs, and experimental steroids and drugs. While the USofA was accused of stealing ventilators from Barbados, a container load of PPE's from Germany (right from the Tarmac of Nairobi Airport), the USofA also bought up the rights to a drug called 'Remdesivir', hence limiting the supply available to other countries.
At the World Health Assembly in May 2020, governments committed to sharing research products and working collectively to address Covid-19. But when governments were faced with tough decisions about how to share resources, their promises of cooperation broke down.
The pandemic has been a test of our self-interest, both as individuals and as nations. One of the key questions has been what responsibility richer countries owe towards poorer nations, particularly when it comes to ensuring the equitable distribution of a vaccine.
Earlier this year, 171 countries pledged to take part in the 'Covax initiative' , which aims to support the development and equitable distribution of 2bn vaccine doses before the end of 2021. But when the first vaccine proved successful, manufactured by Pfizer (in the USofA) in collaboration with a German entity, called BioNTech, richer countries bought up 80% of its doses. (Remark: with lots of people purchasing stocks of both companies but many still refusing to understand the complexity of issues to come in the process of vaccination).
In fact, one analysis by Oxfam found that even if all five of the most advanced vaccine candidates succeed, there would not be enough vaccine for most of the world’s people until late 2023!
This has always been the case in global health: whoever pays the highest price acquires the research products. The World Health Organization has actively tried to warn against this nationalistic approach, but in the end, words and pledges don’t amount to anything unless they are followed by action. It’s money and power that counts.
The same questions about selfishness can be asked of our commitment to each other at home. What responsibility does each of us have towards our communities, or towards other continents such as Africa, were we know how bad C19 struck the poorest people?
And, as this would not be already enough, young girls in many African countries become pregnant more than ever while Schools are closed and hygiene and sanitary pads are traded in exchange for 'sex'.
The pandemic has not only divided families, friends and neighbours over whether they’re willing to bend the rules to accommodate individual wishes, or make sacrifices with others in mind. The C19 pandemic is on its way to divide the world further and more brutal.
The mixed reaction to summer holidays reflected this, as some people decided to travel to other countries, with the risk of transporting the virus with them, while others stayed put. In some schools, entire bubbles of children were sent home to isolate because one student in the bubble had been on holiday abroad and their parents had decided not to follow the 14-21 or 28-day quarantine rules.
Families have been split over the question of Christmas celebrations; whether it’s sensible to host multiple families at one gathering, or wait to delay festivities until the spring or summer when a mass vaccination programme is in motion.
Fact is: On many occasions, the virus has forced us to decide how comfortable we each are with particular risks, and to re-evaluate others according to their own risk threshold.
We may have become closer to some families who share our thinking, and distanced ourselves from others who have different approaches to the pandemic. In comparing our pre- and post-Covid selves, we’re perhaps at risk of overstating how much the pandemic has changed us: instead, it has simply shown each of us who we really are. And, more over, it will show if we can learn from it - or not at all.
There were also many bright moments of selflessness in 2020. Many people made huge personal sacrifices – none more so than the health workers who put their own lives at risk to treat patients needing care. Because of their occupation, healthcare workers are seven times more likely to get severe Covid-19 than other workers, and many turned up to work on wards in March and April without adequate PPE, ready to accept whatever came their way. Elsewhere, bus drivers, security guards, social care workers, cleaners, grocery store workers, mutual aid groups, and teachers all put the needs of running society above their own health and welfare. If anything this pandemic should give us cause to reflect who adds value to society and whether we are compensating these roles appropriately.
On the other hand, time and time again in the richer part of this world (incl. Africa's rich) and with those who are indeed wealthy, we’ve seen that it is one rule for some people (the wealthy and powerful) and another rule for others (the rest of us).
Many governments created a loophole in quarantine restrictions that allowed “high value” business travellers to skip the mandatory 14-day isolation period when arriving into the country. Celebrities have hosted private parties while the rest of us have avoided social gatherings and seeing our family and friends. Most memorable of all, if talking about this, is the UK (Britain), where the prime minister’s then chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, breached Covid rules but remained in his post.
Of all the lessons we’ve learned from this pandemic, the most significant is how unequal its effects have been. Wealth, it turns out, is the best shielding strategy from Covid-19. As poorer people crowded together in cramped housing, the rich escaped to their country retreats.
And without judging the full danger of Sars Cov 2 at this very moment, fact is that two of the largest risk factors for dying from Covid-19 are being from a deprived background and being from a minority-ethnic background, pointing to the underlying role of social inequalities, housing conditions and occupation.
Clearly, our society’s recovery from this disease should be centred on building more equal, resilient societies, where people in all (!) parts of the world have access to both: protection from the disease and access to research developments in every sector: from education and ability to learn about sustainable smart farming to realizing the ongoing and increasing threats through cyber-theft. From monetary driven budgets, to sustainable driven budgets - or green budgets, that come with applicable re-designed laws for tax and off-shore jurisdiction, with a clear message: Stop social inequality.
The re-design and re-structure of the monetary mechanisms to improve towards more resilient financial systems that ensure economic freedom for all and everybody has to be the very main focus to start with.
To do so, it all starts with government. We need to think of good health in a new way as it is not just down to biology, indeed. It is down to social inequalities, which we have not to accept by being helpless victims. In fact there is abundant evidence that the main determinant of immunity to diseases, including Covid, is lifestyle. You don't have to be rich to base your lifestyle around fresh air (contact with nature), sunshine (Vit D) or fresh and high nutrient food, exercise and social interactions. The tragedy of this crisis is that we are missing the opportunity to make lifestyle improvements our central response.
At the end of a gruelling 13 months, we are left with Abraham Lincoln’s words: the pandemic has shown that we need “government of the people, by the people, for the people” – not just government for the wealthy elite. Perhaps that’s the strongest legacy of Covid-19.
We wish all of you a Happy New Year, stay healthy and positive to master all the challenges to come your way!
Hakuna matata - The Team of mavECOn
P.S.: Stay tune and come back soon to our next Blog subject: Cyber Security - inherent and complex vulnerability of Democracy.