David Nabarro is a special representative of the UN Secretary-General and co-director of the Imperial College London’s Institute of Global Health Innovation. We interviewed him as part of our #PassTheMic series. Here’s some of what he had to say.
COVID is a virus we’ve only known about for six months. But what we’re learning is that it’s dangerous, stealthy, surprising and unfortunately, here to stay for the foreseeable future.
We’ve got to learn to live with this virus as a constant threat. But we know we can, because we’re seeing other countries working out how to do it. It’s all about people adapting the way they live and behave so that the virus is not a danger to them or those they love.
However, it’s going to be hard to find ways to live and work together and there’s a real chance that some communities in some countries will be left behind.
That’s why working together is key, and by that I really mean every one of us. The whole human family has to respond to this, all 7.8 billion people in our world. But we’re not going to find that very easy to do if countries, communities, and different political groups insist on maintaining their own ways of doing things.
That’s why I’m in favour of a really unified worldwide response. Then we will have a much better, safer, and happier world.
In order to achieve this, the first thing we have to do is learn how we can defend ourselves against COVID. This means being able to identify people who’ve got the disease and helping them to isolate, as well as those they’ve recently been in contact with.
In that way we can actually interrupt the virus being transmitted from person to person. If we don’t do that, outbreaks can build up quickly and that causes tremendous overloads in hospitals, endangers health workers, and kills people.
Now, that capacity to isolate and keep the virus at bay through stopping transmission sometimes just doesn’t work. Then we get big outbreaks and the result is governments decide they want to stop physical movement of people to reduce opportunities of the virus to transmit.
But by restricting movement you also prevent people from working, prevent them from having a social life, and create conditions that are really unpleasant. That’s where we are at the moment, with more than half the world in various forms of movement restriction.
So, what I’m after is trying to make sure that we can learn together to push this virus into its box and get on with our lives. Otherwise there’s tremendous economic and societal deprivation, and we’re seeing already that’s having an impact on people becoming undernourished and whole industries going into decline.
A big challenge
If we don’t have a global response, we’ve already seen what’s happening in some parts of the world.
By having lockdowns, we’ve just frozen the virus in place. But once movement starts again, if we don’t work out how we’re going to get on top of it, then we will get more big outbreaks.
Working together to keep the virus at bay will mean that we’ve got to respect people’s rights and focus on inequity, so it’s quite a big series of challenges. But they’re good challenges because if we can get on top of the virus, we can find ways to enable all of us to live better, and that’ll be good for the future.
There’s been great successes against COVID in South Korea, Singapore, and China. In New Zealand, they’ve been able to push the virus back. We’re seeing throughout India 1.3 billion people working together.
We’re seeing in many African countries how hard it is, because for many people in the informal economy the movement restrictions are damaging. But, they too will be able to do it, because as communities they work together.
My big concern is that different governments are finding it hard to work in unison. So, we’ve got problems of differences in approach in the UK between England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. That creates terrible confusion for people.
However, I’m confident that humanity has the capacity to be able to get ahead of COVID.
Imagine what impact this will have on us as people, because we’ll find we can work together to deal with COVID and this will make us more confident when it comes to working together to tackle other problems; for example climate change and perhaps most importantly, the extraordinary inequities in our world.
So, I believe we will come out stronger. Humanity will be able to show it is capable of amazing things.
These excerpts from the interview were edited for length and clarity.
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