The rapid spread of the coronavirus has captured the world’s attention. Damaging as it may be, this tiny virus is an urgent reminder of our collective vulnerability to transnational threats — and of the urgency of common cause to protect the health of people everywhere.
National responses — factual public information, containment, testing, tracing, treatment — are critical. But so is an international response that seeks to respond to today’s emergency while also preparing the world to deal with the next one.
In the wake of the Ebola epidemic in 2014, many countries sought to strengthen their own defenses, and as signers on to a Global Health Security Agenda, also committed to helping build the capacity of low-income countries to prevent, detect, and respond to the transnational viral threats that have become more common — and will occur with greater frequency over time.
It’s time to do it again, and this time, we need a commitment to completing the construction of the global architecture we all need.
On the good news front, Africa has today valuable experience in fighting Ebola, polio, HIV and other disease threats, an up-and-running Center for Disease Control and a demonstrated commitment to collective action. But Africa now has also the coronavirus.
As the world’s major powers grapple with managing the rapid-onset crisis that coronavirus represents, they need to think beyond their own borders and invest not just in national but also in global responses and defenses. This means partnering with Africa to support an emergency response AND to build out the capacity that now exists. It also means preparing to respond to those potential areas of spread — Yemen, South Sudan, Syria — where conflict and weak governance give viruses free rein.
While today’s coronavirus crisis constitutes an emergency that requires action now, it is also one that requires action for the future. We are witnessing a crisis, to be sure, but this is also a warning shot — and we would be wise to heed it.