GEETA KOCHHAR:Cooperation can strengthen global immunity to epidemics

Author: Release date:2020-03-11 16:25:09Source:+Add to My Favorites



Coronavirus shows need to establish regional and global public health security networks

Spring Festival is the most important festival in China. It is the Chinese New Year, and the holiday is an opportunity for a large number of Chinese people, both at home and abroad, to return to their hometowns to see out the old year and ring in the new with family and relatives. However, this year began on a very depressing note for many Chinese, just when they were busy preparing for Spring Festival. The news of a deadly virus hitting Wuhan and within days spreading like wildfire, caused fear and panic.

Although, it is not the first time China has faced a national level epidemic; the scale of the novel coronavirus worried even the most ordinary citizens living far away from Wuhan, Hubei province, where the virus first emerged. Earlier, between November 2002 to July 2003, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak had a huge human cost in China. But the Chinese government and people were able to effectively control it and since 2004 there was no nationwide epidemic reported. The key questions are what has made the novel coronavirus epidemic such a global threat and what has China done to control it? In particular, are there any lessons for other countries to deal with the epidemic on their soil? No state is an exclusive entity in the present day world and the more we advance to a globalized interconnected world, the more local issues and problems no longer remain within the territorial domain of a particular state. Thus the current spread of the novel coronavirus is an issue of common concern and China's actions are worth assessing.

Building a large makeshift hospital in just 10 days to provide basic medical assessment and care of suspected cases of infection was unprecedented in the history of any nation. But, there are issues that need due attention in the present crisis. We need to understand that control or management of a particular disease does not mean that in future some new unknown disease will not threaten us. The chances of the epidemic reemerging remains high even if there seems to be a sharp decline in the number of new infections in China, as reports also suggest some cases where the treated patients show signs of reemergence of the disease. Environmental conditions and dietary habits need to be constantly checked to avoid animal-to-human transfer of diseases. Complete isolation from the world is impossible, and as the disease gets controlled in one area, the number of new cases may rise elsewhere, which is where the main challenge to all counter-measures lies.

In lieu of the above considerations, we need to be prepared for all kinds of disasters that threaten human existence, armed with a focus on deeper scientific research. As China has experience in successfully dealing with the SARS outbreak and has even managed to restrict the novel coronavirus death rate to only 2 to 3 percent of the total more than 80,000 affected cases, there surely are lessons for many other countries to learn. China's fight against the coronavirus outbreak has shown that individual's awareness along with timely intervention of local actors as well as state bodies can prevent the spread of a pathogen to a large extent. It has been proven that the collective efforts of communities and ruling authorities are the need of the hour to control the scale of the epidemic. The novel coronavirus outbreak has raised the public health consciousness of people around the world and rooted the notion of people-centric development as one of the underlining requirements for human security.

While development and security goals have been the main priorities for almost all developing countries, especially China and India; the objectives of development need to be broadened from just rooting out poverty to the overall well-being of citizens. The United Nations Human Development Report of 1994 calls for expanding the notions of threats to human existence in contemporary times by including both "freedom from fear" and "freedom from want".

Protection and advancement of individuals within societies is significant to counter the new challenges nature and evolving human societies face in changing times. As our social environment undergoes change, our ability to adapt many times falls short of what is required for the severe challenges around us.

Therefore, sustainable protection against diseases and access to healthcare facilities should be made globally available. As countries pursue goals to ensure the material well-being of their citizens, the nature of unforeseen and unknown diseases create existential vulnerabilities that individual states cannot deal with on their own. Hence management networks are needed both regionally and globally to produce a pool of resources, comprising medical practitioners, medical equipment and medicines and services. China, which has rich experience in countering epidemics, can and should be a pioneer in advancing such networks for the well-being of humanity.


The author is a visiting scholar at Fudan Development Institute and an assistant professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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