Covid-19: The Next Global Health Crisis Has Now Arrived

Covid-19 – described by many in authority as the greatest threat to mankind since the second world war. Almost one million human beings infected. To date nearly 50,000 deaths: over 13,000 dead in Italy, 10,000 in Spain, 4,000 in France, and over 5,000 in the USA (US experts predict a rise to 240,000  in the US alone before this thing is over).\

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It’s natural in great crises for we humans to look for someone or something to blame. Inept political leaders can often use a similar tactic to subvert focus from their own deficiencies in handling an emergency, just as Trump has insisted on calling Covid-19 the ‘Chinese virus’, as though the Chinese invented it deliberately and set it loose on the world.

Of course, the idea is ridiculous. Yet it has taken hold on social media and spread almost as fast as the virus itself. Chinese and Asian people are being snubbed, and sometimes abused and beaten, by ignorant pigs who take out their fear on innocent people.

The facts are clear: scientists have been predicting exactly this eventuality for years. In 2011, an 87 page report by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) into the probability of future pandemics concluded:

1) there is not sufficient interoperable, globally shared information available in real-time about pandemic risk inventories, hazards or threatened segments of the built or natural infrastructure,

2) there is a dramatic lack of forward thinking and planning for the creation and distribution of medical countermeasures—including drugs, vaccines and surge capacity, which, in part, arises because of the lack of real-time information,

3) there is a serious requirement for international harmonization of regulations across the pandemic spectrum, and

4) there needs to be financially sustainable basic research efforts upon which is  based the preparation, mitigation, response and rebuilding that will be required before, during and after a pandemic.

In other words, then as now, there was a total lack of infrastructure in place to combat a pandemic like Covid-19. The report set out what was needed in terms of international cooperation, between both scientists and politicians, to a) prevent a possible occurrence, and b) deal swiftly and effectively with any viral pandemic that ‘got through the net’.

Needless to say, that report was ignored by the political elite who just crossed their fingers and hoped, if it was going to happen, it would be on someone else’s watch.

The result of such irresponsibility and apathy, from world leaders handed the power to take such decisions by the citizens they were trusted to protect, is the dire situation we find ourselves in today.

Trump, in America, is blaming previous administrations for not developing the necessary resources to fight the Covid-19 outbreak. A fine example of ‘passing the buck’ when in truth the framework was well established in the US prior to Trump’s presidency, and was dismantled by him with the closures of federal environmental and disease-control agencies by the simple act of de-funding them:

In 2018, the US Center for Disease Control was forced to cut 80% of its efforts to prevent global disease outbreaks due to lack of money. Ultimately, the department went from working in 49 countries to just 10.

Trump shut down the entire global-health-security unit of the National Security Council.

He eliminated the US government’s $30 million Complex Crises Fund.

He reduced national health spending by $15 billion.

In the UK, successive Tory governments have cut back on essential services, gutted the National Health Service, and failed to keep up stocks of vital health equipment, like ventilators.

The result, gloriously demonstrated by the latest impostor to reside in 10 Downing Street, was the flounderings and ditherings by Johnson and his gang of political outcasts, which dove them deeper and deeper into the mire of ineptitude, until Johnson’s only recourse was a shaky and apathetic daily Churchillian-type rallying-cry to the people, in the vain hope they might think he was actually doing something.

Bolsonaro in Brazil; Viktor Orbán of Hungary; Duterte in the Philippines, and numerous other far right-wing wannabee dictators have all displayed a total lack of care for the people they lord it over. The last decade has seen a splintering of the world’s peoples into a form of tribalism not seen for generations. It has allowed the rise of these thuggish individuals and created a power structure dangerous to us all.

Covid-19 is not just the start. It all began a long time ago. Animal to human transmission of dangerous organisms is nothing new.  As David Quammen,  author of “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic,writes in the NY Times:

The list of such viruses emerging into humans sounds like a grim drumbeat: Machupo, Bolivia, 1961; Marburg, Germany, 1967; Ebola, Zaire and Sudan, 1976; H.I.V., recognized in New York and California, 1981; a form of Hanta (now known as Sin Nombre), southwestern United States, 1993; Hendra, Australia, 1994; bird flu, Hong Kong, 1997; Nipah, Malaysia, 1998; West Nile, New York, 1999; SARS, China, 2002-3; MERS, Saudi Arabia, 2012; Ebola again, West Africa, 2014. And that’s just a selection. Now we have nCoV-2019, the latest thump on the drum.

The latest ‘thump of the drum’, and certainly one of the worst in our modern era. Though quite definitely not the last. The correlation between climate change and human infection by viral, bacterial, and parasitic organisms is well documented. Covid-19 will be one of many, some much more virulent and deadly than our latest adversary. Here again, our politicians insist on showing us their backsides as they bury their heads in the sands of complacency. The Paris agreement on climate change, that had the politicians clapping and hurrahing at their own ingenuity, seems a long time ago. It was in 2016. It’s now four years later and what’s to show for it. The major polluters: China, the US, Australia, and to some extent, Europe, have achieved little- indeed, in some cases, like the US and China – actually gone backwards and are thrusting ever more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Is it any wonder we’re all locked down, the world economy is crashing around our ears, and thousands are now dying every day, because of our politicians’ ineptitude, their preference for the behind the scenes financial handouts of the fossil fuel companies and their associated industries, rather than the welfare of those who chose them to govern.

The OECD report concludes:

The magnitude of the threat of infectious diseases also  necessitates a major global, investigative effort. The example of the “Rice Institutes” funded by the Rockefeller Foundation for fifteen years and sustained by the Consultative Group in International Agricultural Research, provides a framework for an interdisciplinary, collaborative and synergistic network of Infectious Disease International Research Centers. These should have a permanent faculty and staff as well as visiting fellowships and studentships. The lasting positive impacts of international research centers are many, including fostering long-term relationships between scientists, establishing a culture of research responsibility and serving as the nucleus for safe applications of interdisciplinary sciences globally.

The key to any progress against infectious diseases is a structure that brings together these diverse interests in a lasting fashion. Without such a structure, the commitment to reducing the impact of infectious diseases on our national, economic and personal security will be subject to the political vagaries of the moment, leaving us unprepared for the next global health crisis. [my bold/underline]

This was back in 2011. It never happened. The “next global health crisis” has  now arrived.