by James M. Dorsey*
As late as early March 2020, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo trumpeted:
Excuse our arrogance as New Yorkers… We think we have the best healthcare system on the planet right here in New York. So, when you’re saying what happened in other countries versus what happened here, we don’t even think it’s going to be as bad as it was in other countries. We are fully coordinated; we are fully mobilized.
However, when the coronavirus rolled around, it turned out that New York was neither fully coordinated, nor was it fully mobilized.
New York, New York
In fact, NYC became the pandemic’s prime hotspot in the United States, accounting for the highest number of infection cases and the highest mortality rate.
Its hospitals were overwhelmed, its stockpiles quickly depleted and its frontline workers perilously exposed to risk of contagion. Worse, many of the deaths could have been prevented had Mr. Cuomo opted to lock down the Big Apple earlier.
For now, that recent history has largely been forgotten, as Mr. Cuomo thrives in his element. He is a rising star on the United States’ political ferment.
A man in command with a mission
His sober but empathetic, fact-based daily briefings project him as a man in command with a mission to ensure the health, safety and wellbeing of his state.
If Mr. Cuomo — a veteran of dealing with the aftermaths of disasters like Hurricane Sandy — learnt anything from his delayed response to the coronavirus pandemic, it was that “an outbreak anywhere is an outbreak everywhere.”
Globalization receding, with a virus like that?
Cuomo is correct. The coronavirus, dubbed COVID 19, left no corner of the globe untouched.
That is what makes it very different from other epidemics in recent years, such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS in the early 2000s, the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012 or the eruption of Ebola in West Africa in 2014.
It is a lesson that goes to the heart of all that is wrong with global, regional and national healthcare governance. It is a lesson that calls into question social and economic policies that have shaped the world for decades irrespective of political system.
It’s all about trust
The COVID 19 pandemic is also a live lesson that lack of trust in a society greatly complicates government efforts to counter the virus. We have learned that the management of public health goes to the core of the relationship between government and the people.
What has also become abundantly clear is that social trust is a pillar of an effective healthcare policy in a time of crisis.
This should have come as no surprise. After all, we have had ample opportunity to be aware that we live in an era of defiance and dissent. In part, this is a result of a breakdown in confidence in political systems and political leadership.
Defiance on the rise
Events like Occupy Wall Street in 2011 and the 2011 Arab popular revolts were early harbingers. More recently, over the course of 2019, mass anti-government demonstrations led to the toppling of leaders in Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon and Iraq.
In Iran as well, distrust persuaded many Iranians to initially refuse to heed public health warnings to maintain social distancing, stay at home and install an Android app designed to help people self-diagnose and avoid rushing to hospital.
Protesters in 2019 went beyond demanding the fall of a leader. They sought the fall of political elites and the radical overhaul of failed political systems. The pandemic called an abrupt halt to the protests.
Lack of health care as a global fuse
Protesters like the rest of the population went into temporary hibernation. When they re-emerge, they are likely to zero in on all those government leaders who prioritized their own pursuit of political advantage above their nation’s health and economic well-being.
Given that the financial cost of this negligence surpasses that of the 1929 Great Depression, there will be popular calls to put deficient health care on par with crimes committed against humanity during times of war.
A difficult road ahead
Finally, the pandemic has painfully illustrated the economic cost of not ensuring proper healthcare infrastructure in every corner of the globe. This includes a guarantee of equal access to healthcare.
The current practice of turning a blind eye to the destruction of healthcare facilities in conflict situations — as happened in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh, Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of Congo — will boomerang. As will our tolerating millions of refugees existing in sub-standard living and hygiene conditions.
How long the road to meaningful improvements in global public health will be becomes apparent if one looks at the incredible gaps in the equitable provision of healthcare in the United States, which loves to advertise itself as the richest country on earth.
*senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies and an award-winning journalist
**first published in: www.theglobalist.com