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We have twin pandemics, a public health pandemic and an economic pandemic


Helene Gayle is a US doctor, CEO of the Chicago Community Trust, and the former CEO of CARE. We interviewed her as part of our #PassTheMic series. Here’s some of what she had to say.

A coordinated global response to COVID is critical. This is a global pandemic and without global cooperation, we will not be able to have the effect that is so necessary in this ever more interconnected world. COVID has shown us, perhaps more than any other pandemic, how important it is for us to work together as a world community.

But in order to have a global response, we have to bring together better collaboration between nations. It is important that we have strong organizations like the World Health Organization and other global health bodies coming together. We need to have the kind of global political leadership that makes this a priority. A public health response is clearly necessary, but because of the intertwined nature and COVID’s huge economic impact, we really need an even greater collaboration between our public health bodies, our political leadership, and economic leadership. We have twin pandemics, a public health pandemic and an economic pandemic, and we need to make sure they’re both thought of in an interconnected fashion.

This pandemic, particularly in the United States, has had a disproportionate impact on people — both a health and economic impact.

The pandemic (in this country as well as around the world) has had a really disproportionate impact on women. We know that women tend to work at jobs that put them at greater risk. They are also the caretakers within the home, who are often at greater risk.

We also know that women often are already more economically vulnerable. So while this pandemic has a disproportionate impact on women because of the jobs they hold and their familial roles, it’s also having a huge economic impact on women who are already disproportionately impacted by poverty and financial instability.

People of color are also disproportionately affected by the impact of COVID-19. We know that people of color are more likely to be in work situations that put their health at risk. Whether they’re health aids or working in factories or bagging our groceries or other kinds of frontline service industries, people of color are at greater risk. In addition, these are the same populations who have a huge wealth inequality here in our nation. So, with this already existing disproportion of financial and economic insecurity that COVID has had, it also disproportionately affects people of color who were already so economically vulnerable.

The events of the last few months, including the disproportionate impact of COVID on black and Latinx communities, the murder of George Floyd, and the racial reckoning that this country is coming to, highlight these issues more than ever. As a nation, we need to think about the things that we need to change so that we can have a more equitable society.

That’s why when we think about a global pandemic and global coordination, once we have a vaccine (and perhaps better treatments) it will be important to think rationally about where the need is greatest. We’ll need to make sure that we’re thinking about the distribution where the need is greatest throughout the world so that we can have equitable distribution of measures for prevention and control.

If we don’t work in a coordinated way, in the end we’ll all lose out. There are no borders or boundaries for infectious diseases, so it’s naive and wrong-headed to think that we can isolate ourselves, only care about our own population, and think that we’re going to be able to stay safe that way. We have to think globally and about communities other than our own. It’s the right thing to do, but it’s also the best thing to do for our own sake.

These excerpts from the interview were edited for length and clarity.

Hear more from experts in our #PassTheMic campaign, where global health experts take over celebrities’ social media channels to share the data, facts, and science we need to know to end COVID-19. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for more.

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