On Jan. 28, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared a public health emergency of international concern for the quickly spreading coronavirus, similar to those it previously declared for H1N1 in 2009, Ebola in West Africa in 2014, polio in 2014, Zika in 2016 and Ebola again in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2019.
At this stage, it is difficult to understand the precise impact of this latest virus, but it has already infected more than 1.6 million people and claimed the lives of more than 95,765 to date.
Out of this human calamity has come renewed attention to global health security, calling into question its definition, meaning and the practical implications for programs and policies.
Countries have sealed their borders, closed their companies, malls, schools and banned gatherings. Some declared a state “epidemiological emergency,” while others a full state of emergency.
Despite apparent decisive actions by the governments, doctors and experts across the world have raised questions about the state of the health care systems and vulnerabilities to the new sudden virus, which spread rapidly in more than 209 countries and territories around the world.
It was clear that no country was fully prepared to face this pandemic, although some countries were better prepared to handle an outbreak than others.
We need to realize that health is an investment in the future. Countries invest heavily in developing military technology and nuclear weapons but not against the attack of a virus, which could be far more deadly and far more damaging economically and socially.
The lesson that the coronavirus has provided us was the shared threat and the shared responsibility to act.
This means advocating for national funding to address gaps in health systems and health infrastructure, as well as providing support to the most vulnerable countries. Investing now will save lives – and money – later. Governments, communities and international agencies must work together to achieve these critical goals.
Recalling what World Bank Group former President Jim Yong Kim once said: “Good health is the foundation of a country’s human capital, and no country can afford low-quality or unsafe health care.”
* Palestinian author, researcher, freelance journalist and recipient of two prizes from the Palestinian Union of Writers