-Fatema Lightwala and Lisa Coutinho, SVKM’s Pravin Gandhi College of Law, Mumbai University
“If ever we needed reminding that we live in an interconnected world, the novel coronavirus has brought that home.”
– UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi
The Covid-19 pandemic has drastically affected nations of the world, bringing the entire world to a halt. Even the superpowers of the world, rich in resources and funds are struggling to face its consequences. The global economy is expected to witness colossal losses to an estimated sum of USD 5.8-8.8 trillion as reported by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The IMF stated it to be far worse than the 2009 global financial crisis. The healthcare sectors have collapsed as they are unable to cope up with the increasing number of cases. There have also been rampant human right violations and cases of xenophobia, especially against the weaker sectionssuch as refugees, migrant workers, displaced persons. To face these unprecedented conditions the norm of global solidarity has resurfaced and its need is felt now more than ever. The virus knows no borders, neither does it discriminate on the basis of religion, colour, race, language. The nations of the world under the leadership of the World Health Organization have to work hand in glove to respond to this public health emergency.
North-South Cooperation: Need of the hour
On April 2, 2020, a resolution titled ‘Global solidarity to fight the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)’ was unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. This document is the first of its kind addressing a global pandemic. It was sponsored by Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Singapore, Indonesia, Norway, and Ghana, and co-sponsored by 188 nation-states. It was adopted under a silence procedure, due to the inability to hold meetings. The resolution urged the member-states to strengthen international cooperation to combat the spread of the virus through increased trade of scientific knowhow, vital information concerning the virus and spreading awareness and implementing the recommendations and guidelines of the WHO. Further, it emphasizes on the need for unity, global solidarity and multilateralism.
The WHO has successfully created a ‘COVID Solidarity Response Fund’ to raise finances to effectively prevent, detect and respond to the crisis. It outlines the distribution of funds for critical response efforts towards countries in need of help. The donations received would be used to execute the Strategic Preparedness and Response Plan that, inter alia, aims at providing medical assistance to patients, making available the essential supplies such as face masks, gloves and other safety wears, stimulating research efforts for the development of vaccines, improved and increased tests and treatments and creating awareness among the general public.
The UN predicts that by the end of the year, nearly half a billion of the global population could be pushed into destitution, owing to the pandemic. The danger posed by the crisis is so massive that it will exacerbate the North-South relations leading to the increase in the economic imparity between the haves and have-nots. The north-south divide is the gap between the economically developed countries of the north, including Germany, North America, Israel, South Africa, the Scandinavian states and the developed countries of western Europe, and the economically backward countries of the south, including India, Mexico, Brazil, Africa, amongst others. The virus has brought to light varied state capacities to respond to the catastrophe. For example, many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have the lowest per capita number of physicians in the world, while some other countries like Syria, Afghanistan experience ongoing conflicts, making it nearly impossible to fight the virus. The less developed countries lack sufficient means and resources to face the blow of the virus. Countries with weak governance and health care facilities can become breeding grounds of the virus if the spread is not stopped at an early stage. Hence, it is imperative for the more developed countries to aid and assist these countries to fill global gaps in public health facilities. Additionally, the virus has led nations of the world to close their borders. The same decision was welcomed by the WHO that prescribed the practice of “isolate, test, treat and trace”. This has left these underdeveloped nations to fight the virus by themselves. There is an urgent need to establish “humanitarian corridors” that allow the movement of medical resources, essential goods and services, cross border hospitalisation and exchange of medical research.
Another set of problems that the virus has unfolded is the spread of misinformation, which is the result of the fear of the unknown along with the lack of reliable information or factually inaccurate assertions. Moreover, stereotypical and racist comments, and geographic and ethnic labels like calling the Coronavirus as the ‘Chinese Virus’ has led to deliberate politicization of the crisis. Further, the US decision to suspend funding to the WHO especially has been internationally condemned. At a time like this, withdrawal of funds from its biggest financial contributors will have a detrimental effect on the various future plans, programmes and policies of the organization. The political partisan and the internal fight among humans for political power adds fuel to the already existing fire. It is not the time to politicise our personal objectives, rather to stand in unison by keeping our personal indifferences aside. The only priority at the moment should be that of saving lives. The threat posed by the lack of global solidarity is in fact greater than that posed by the virus.
Various nations around the world have now realised the need for joint effort and are generously aiding through financial and health supplies. For example, recently India has supplied the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine to several nations, including the US. Qatar too has provided aid to about 20 countries in the form of healthcare supplies, food supplies, building field hospitals. It has further helped multilateral organizations by contributing USD 140 million towards the development of the vaccine. Similarly, international organisations too have stepped forward. For example, the World Bank has launched emergency support operations to provide urgent help to governments and companies. It pledged to donate up to $160 billion over the next 15 months to help the poor and vulnerable countries, finance businesses, and boost economic recovery. The University of Oxford in association with drug maker AstraZeneca, has begun phase III human trials of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by them. It has initiated these trials in Brazil. Further, they are expected to take place in South Africa and India too. This indicates a positive direction towards global partnerships. Such initiatives enhance global cooperation and should be encouraged and welcomed by the international community at large.
It is imperative for nations to realise that the health of one is the health of all, and accordingly work in unity, with synchronised efforts, ensuring that the measures introduced by one nation do not impede the response in others.Recently, Russia’s hacking group APT29, also known as ‘The Dukes’ or ‘Cozy Bear’ has been accused by the US, UK and Canada for attempting to siphon research related to the coronavirus vaccine by attacking academic and pharmaceutical institutions involved in its development. Practices like these are undesirable as they impair global ties and prove counterproductive to solidarity.
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