•The world was in luck that the multi-strain virus was discovered in China’s Wuhan City.
•In some countries, corruption made a bad situation worse as those in authority diverted funds and other resources allocated for fighting the pandemic.
If there was an effective early warning system to detect and prevent the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in December 2019 or thereabouts, the world would have been saved the socioeconomic devastation that brought many countries to their knees. But even in places and instances where these systems are present, pandemics still break out of otherwise airtight conditions.
While no one can pinpoint the epicentre of the Covid -19 pandemic, which is now water under the bridge, the world was in luck that the multi-strain virus was discovered in China’s Wuhan City. The initial measures that China took to contain and fight the virus managed to relatively slow its spread to the rest of the world. Indeed, China ranked among countries that recorded the lowest Covid -19 related deaths.
After the outbreak, the entire country acted promptly. Relying on its overall national strength, China mobilised the people, enhanced research and development, procured supplies, and brought them to those in need rapidly. It mustered the support of the whole country to assist Hubei, and particularly Wuhan, to combat the disease. It pooled all its strength in the shortest period of time, and halted the spread of the epidemic.
Data published on December 19, 2023, by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that there were 772,838,745 confirmed cases of Covid -19, and 6,988,679 deaths from the pandemic. A total of 13,595,721,080 vaccine doses had been administered by November 25. Still, the dark clouds of the pandemic are seen as a silver lining that jolted the world from complacency to more alertness in identifying and managing health emergencies.
Covid-19 was preceded by at least four other pandemics in modern times, including the 2019 swine flu pandemic, otherwise known as the H1N1 flu, that lasted from June 2009 to August 2010. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about 284,000 people died from the pandemic.
Unlike in the past, people today are extremely mobile, which means that a virus can travel around the world within a few days. By the time it is detected, identified and mapped, millions of people could have been infected across the globe, necessitating massive drastic measures like it happened with the closure of international borders, restrictions of movement within countries, among other strict measures to curb Covid -19.
Knowledge sharing was a critical component in the fight against Covid-19, with thousands of scientists in the health ecosystem worldwide exchanging notes on their findings within their jurisdiction. Even trial and error was part of the bigger picture, rather than waste of time groping in the dark.
The United Nations International Day of Epidemic Preparedness marked annually on December 27 aims at reminding countries that a repeat of the Covid-19 pandemic is not a remote possibility if they do not stay sufficiently vigilant of global health crises. The day last year was the third annual event after the first one was celebrated on December 27, 2020.
The Day was established by the UN General Assembly “to advocate the importance of the prevention of, preparedness for and partnership against epidemics.” The global health body works closely with governments to support efforts to build strong emergency and epidemic preparedness systems, as part of an overall approach to advance universal health coverage and strengthen primary health care systems.
Epidemic preparedness is also about good governance. In some countries, corruption made a bad situation worse as those in authority diverted funds and other resources allocated for fighting the pandemic. This is actually a form of human rights abuse.
In August 2020, the WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyesus, stated that corruption in procurement of personal protective equipment was no less than murder as it put the lives of patients and health workers at grave risk.
While we may not manage to stop viral outbreaks that harbour pandemic potential, at least we know what to do from the outset. This entails always having the wherewithal to ensure that pandemics are nipped in the bud through the best practice protocols that were developed and tested throughout Covid-19. Any loopholes should be sealed with the necessary urgency in order to save lives and reduce the socioeconomic ramifications.
The pandemic was also a great chance to enhance multilateralism. Interestingly, many rich countries, particularly in the Global North, suffered the brunt of the pandemic much more than the Global South. Poor countries were generally more resilient compared to the developed ones. This realisation reawakened the fact that we are an interdependent world, regardless of the socioeconomic status.
Stephen Ndegwa is the Executive Director of South-South Dialogues, a Nairobi-based communications development think tank, and a PhD student at the United States International University-Africa