Summary – This article discusses future benefits of the current investments in vaccines and public health strengthening. It draws parallels between the COVID-19 crisis we face today to previous crises and how solidarity and investment in public administration capacity influenced a global economic boom. The article makes the case that by taking cues from those before us, we shall emerge even stronger from the COVID-19 crisis.
Without doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic’s human and economic toll have been devastating. With no cure, the virus has jolted executives in the private sector and officials in government to embark on the quest to find a vaccine. Tremendous progress has already been registered in this regard although when the ultimate vaccine is found, certified, manufactured and distributed, it will sadly be too late for many who lie in hospitals right now, desperate to survive this “invisible enemy”. The tragedy with many drugs, as with other economic goods, is that they have a derived demand. Before a novel virus strikes, in as much as there is no replica to base the creation of a drug on, there is also no effective demand. The silver lining though is that many of the vaccines that will eventually be developed, or the pharmaceutical response in general, will in the end add to humanity’s medicinal arsenal, and one or some of these novel drugs may indeed be important lines of defense in future pandemics. Our resilience and ability to treat diseases caused by other pathogens today to some extent emanated from the difficulty faced in previous pandemics, as well as the hard work and determination of those before us to find a cure; not only for themselves but knowing that future generations would thank them. Therefore the current vaccine effort and public health response in general is not only important now, but it will also ensure that future generations will thank us.
Across the length and breadth of the world, the “new normal” is the buzzword. However this does not mean “taking it while lying down”. Yes, as the world shut down its airports, closed its commerce (except essential services) and imposed restrictions on social life due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for many of us this was reminiscent of apocalypse-type movies. Indeed the pandemic has wreaked havoc and proven to be an unprecedented perturbation of peace-time social fabric – at least in recent times. But make no mistake, we will rise again like those before us. Falling down is part and parcel of the growth process, as long as we get back on our feet – and much stronger for that matter. At each stage that the world has found itself in a seemingly intractable situation better days have always come afterwards. Many of the technologies in use today were direct results of or bi-products of attempts to solve one or another pressing challenge of the time. The relative peace and stability that we enjoy today in the world is partly due to the fact that the horror and destruction of military violence has been experienced by those before us and has been well documented. Therefore better days lie ahead of us, just like those before us knew it would.
The search for an effective COVID-19 vaccine will certainly result in other biomedical and pharmaceutical breakthroughs that will be essential in treating other diseases. On top of that some public health infrastructure investments (such as new hospitals, ventilators and other medical equipment) are durable; and will contribute towards an overall strong health delivery system in the long term. While the sole focus on the COVID-19 pandemic has meant a hiatus in action against other forms of disease, the resultant backslide in progress for these diseases may be offset by the benefits of a healthier population in the long-term. COVID-19’s public awareness campaigns may also have also influenced increased consciousness around issues of hygiene which may, at least in the medium term, influence to some extent a reduction in the morbidity and mortality burden of diarrheal related diseases.
There is a positive correlation between a healthier population and higher economic growth. Therefore, the investments into vaccine development, medical equipment and facilities as well as public awareness may result in ‘sturdy’ workforce and population in general, which in turn may catalyze economic vitality and prosperity. Although the positive influence of health on economic growth is the subject of empirical debate, and although the symbiotic relationship between the health of the population and the growth of the economy does not remain stable over the entire course of the growth process – we can expect a robust economic comeback post COVID-19.
At the geopolitical level, although countries have shut down their borders, they have still stood in solidarity in ensuring trade and passage of essential goods between borders. In Africa, there has been a centralized, continent-wide strategy for procurement of essential supplies and other aspects of the COVID-19 response. By adopting such a united front, Africa may be able to better bargain on the international procurement landscape given the cut-throat competition to source COVID-19 medical supplies. If such solidarity is maintained in the post COVID-19 period, then Africa has a better chance of negotiating its firm standing on the world stage regarding trade and global politics, among others. During the golden age of capitalism – the post-WWII period in which the world experienced a huge boom in economic growth – international solidarity also played a key role.
The synchronized manner in which biomedical sciences, medical sciences, epidemiology, social sciences, other professionals and governments have worked to optimize COVID-19 responses, and balance health and the economy, is something that occurs rarely – yet such synergies are important in enhancing the capacity and effectiveness of public administration. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic the world may be a better place if stakeholders continue on such a consultative, actively interdisciplinary and synergized approach to increase public administration capacity. The result would be better development outcomes. By reflecting on these and other lessons we shall overcome like those before us, and may well emerge from this crisis stronger than before.
Part of a series of blogs on the socio-economic impact, implications, and opportunities for a world after COVID-19. Written by Dr. Tawanda Chingozha, development economist and OAD Fellow. Visit http://www.astro4dev.org/covid-19/