REBUILDING

Lessons from Covid-19 pandemic can shape the future

In Summary
  • The foremost lesson is how to better prepare for the next pandemic or any other emergency having equivalent disruptive capacity
  • Investing in connectivity for all will strengthen educational access and continuity and the sustainability of livelihoods, including for the most marginalised
Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.
Charles Swindoll

Covid-19 has irreversibly disrupted the philosophies, processes, and systems of societies across the globe.

The pandemic has created two overarching global crises—one in public health and one in the economy. The impact on public health and the economy have cumulatively created a multi-dimensional societal emergency affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people across the world on an unprecedented scale.

In the middle of the pandemic, however, we are learning many powerful lessons. We now recognise how important the smallest of things we took for granted. Going to church, hanging out with friends, watching soccer as well as having a haircut were things we least thought could be disrupted by anything. We now know that they can be disrupted or stopped altogether.

We have learnt many lessons. Whether it is strengthening public health systems, making online education safer and more accessible, addressing poverty and social exclusion, tackling violence against women, or creating greener, more sustainable economies, the pandemic marks a historic opportunity for a fresh start that governments and societies should grasp.

The foremost lesson is how to better prepare for the next pandemic or any other emergency having equivalent disruptive capacity. Covid-19 has shown the need to devote resources for future epidemic prevention, and create cost-benefit models to evaluate the timing and various types of shutdowns to save lives without excessive economic disruption.

In the face of growing threats from pandemics governments, especially in low and middle-income countries, should allocate an initial minimum of five per cent of their GDP to public health by 2030.

Adequate resourcing is a crucial first step to providing effective universal health coverage. Funding for this should be raised by fiscal reforms based on fair and progressive taxation and improved public financial management. More than this may be required as a longer-term target to address growing pandemic and climate crisis risks.

The international community, including financial institutions, should increase the funding available to national health systems to respond and build better from the pandemic.

Health and social workers, as the frontline fighters in the battle, have the highest risk of exposure to the virus; they have suffered in terms of fatalities more disproportionately.

In the post-Covid world, countries need to create healthcare systems that protect and insulate health workers. More investment is needed to address critical health staff shortages, especially in frontline categories, and deliver expanded, more resilient, gender-sensitive healthcare systems through enhanced recruitment, remuneration, equipment, and professional development.

Such reforms and innovations should be supported in consultation with relevant policymakers, experts, civil society and communities. Innovations such as telemedicine may be critical to ensuring sustainability and resilience in containing future pandemics. It will require governments to invest in essential technological infrastructure and expertise.

The international community, including financial institutions, should increase the funding available to national health systems to respond and build better from the pandemic. Donor agencies should build on previous support by prioritising efforts to rapidly strengthen health systems and coverage, while all creditors should expand debt relief measures through cancellations or suspensions.

The need to strengthen disaster preparedness and disaster management, climate crisis adaptation and disaster resilience as part of pandemic recovery efforts cannot be overemphasised. For economic recovery to be sustainable, governments and societies must prepare for the growing impacts of global heating and environmental destruction that are already locked in for decades to come.

This requires a holistic approach that strengthens systems and infrastructure. International donors should increase support for adaptation of systems, and relevant infrastructure to contain health emergencies; without this support, other development investments and gains become less sustainable.

Beyond the health sector, the pandemic has shown how the internet can sustain learning via online classes and jobs in times of crisis as well as crucial measures such as contact tracing. The educational system has been forced to move online as far as possible.

Investing in connectivity for all will strengthen educational access and continuity and the sustainability of livelihoods, including for the most marginalised populations. New technologies should be developed to enable manual workers to work with equipment that allows social distancing.

Governments should now put in place ambitious and creative measures to ensure that the boom in online education does not leave the most marginalised behind: house girls and construction workers. Distance education, primarily online, is here to stay. Governments should ensure that those without home internet access or capable devices are not excluded from educational opportunities. They need to look into the viability of private sector partnerships to provide low-cost devices to lower-income households.

We have also seen the exposure of women to alarming levels of domestic abuse, highlighting the need to strengthen protection systems for all women. Such efforts should target high risk, socially excluded or stigmatised groups.

The lessons Covid-19 has taught mankind and government should trigger policies, legislations, programmes and initiatives that address weakness in institutions in handling crisis and also the social iniquities that the pandemic brought to the fore.

Public communications officer, Pharmacy and Poisons Board