COVID-19 has spread from a health crisis to an economic crisis to a societal crisis in a matter of months. But we know what we need to find our way out of this crisis and build back stronger and more prepared. Experts have the facts, science, data, and advice to tackle this crisis — and global leadership should follow that advice.
Here’s recommendations from 10 leading experts on what it will take to tackle COVID-19.
If a country takes an individual approach, they’ll be trying to work out now which vaccine groups are going to be the effectively successful ones at a time where we don’t have any information. What happens if they’re wrong? If they pick five different vaccines and all of them end up failing? That country is going to be in a place where it’s spent a lot of money and doesn’t necessarily have access to any vaccines. A different approach would be to work with other countries, pool those risks, have a programme in a portfolio across multiple different countries, sharing that financial risk but also sharing the benefits.
— Dr. Charlie Weller, head of vaccines at the global charitable foundation Wellcome.
Scientists should push pharmaceutical companies to accept that we should be providing the vaccines for free to the areas of the world that cannot cope with the expenses that these vaccines represent. We should also accept a higher price in rich countries so that poorer countries can get them for free. Otherwise we lose the momentum of protecting our world from this disease.
— Dr. Bonaventura Clotet, director and president of Fundació Lluita contra la Sida (Fight against AIDS Foundation).
On the economy
We know from history that periods of protectionism or turning inwards result in lower economic growth. We saw this after the Great Depression, when it took decades to recover. So if we want a quicker recovery, we need to have a more open and global response. Because simply looking after your own will not solve the global health problem, nor is it the right response from an economic well-being perspective.
— Minouche Shafik, director of the London School of Economics.
It’s now critical for the economic actors and institutions that are designed to handle these kinds of global shocks, such as the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank, to come together and react in a more coordinated and productive way to contain the economic fallout. We’ve seen some of that, particularly with the G20 instructing international financial institutions to put a standstill on debt repayments from the developing countries. We thought that was an important first step, but there’s more that [can be] done to assist countries that need support.
— Dr. Brahima Coulibaly, vice president and director of the Global Economy and Development programme at Brookings.
The risk if there isn’t a global response economically is that we will have a “limping recovery.” So if two countries take off and the rest of us are struggling behind, we won’t get the overall liftoff we need. What is clear is that we are interconnected, and so one country lifting off and others lagging behind is not going to help.
— Vera Songwe, executive secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa.
On addressing inequalities
The COVID-19 pandemic revealed our social, economic, health, and political inequalities on an unprecedented scale. We knew that we had inequalities between countries and within them but never had any external catastrophic event tested its substance, at the same time, all over the world. Post pandemic, we cannot return to normal. Many countries are now forced to look at new ways to develop innovative policies, plans, and strategies that will inevitably have to reduce the vast inequalities and build more resilient and inclusive societies and economies.
— Melene Rossouw, founder of the Women Lead Movement.
On global cooperation
We’ve already seen the risk if we do not have a coordinated global response. Countries have tried to blame other countries, created mistrust, and stigmatised people … That mindset appeals to people sometimes when they’re going through something challenging. One of the natural things that people do when they’re afraid is get angry or blame people. So if we can recognise that our response to this doesn’t have to mean that we have anger, that’s very helpful. Underlying it all needs to be compassion, because putting up barriers, not trusting people, and not exchanging information isn’t going to get us where we need to be.
— Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer for British Columbia.
When people start applying their skills to new problems and sharing information openly, good things happen. There was a group in China that early on got a hold of a virus sample that they were able to get a good genome sequence from. They published that genomic data and shared it with the world. Because people were open with their information, others were able to jump on that and make their own little sparks. Then, with enough of those sparks, it turns into this wildfire where you get a tremendous range of researchers all focusing their expertise in one area.
— Dr. Jennifer Gardy, deputy director of surveillance, data, and epidemiology for the malaria team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
On health systems
If you unbundle it all, it comes down to prevention, to building the systems that keep a nation and its population healthier and, for a cure, to ensure that the support is there for healthcare systems. These priorities need to be part of the governments themselves, with the support of the international community through global cooperation and alliances.
— President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, former president of Liberia.
The first thing to do now is a review process of what happened. Let’s look at our emergency preparedness and the way we responded. The first would be to assess our interventions and behaviour towards this pandemic. What did we do right? Which areas do we need to improve? We have the World Health Organisation to help stop pandemics. So what was not put in place? Where was the break in communications?
— Dr. Grace Ogiehor-Enoma, head hospital administrator at New York Presbyterian Queens.