“If we manage to stop the destructive exploitation of nature, we will also reduce the risk for future pandemics”

Peter Friberg.

Dear reader,

The future we want – the UN we need. This was the title of a virtual seminar a few weeks back celebrating the Day of Multilateralism. It’s hard right now to imagine a world without UN and its family organisations. The very fact that the US recently blocked a vote on a UN Security Council resolution calling for a global ceasefire during the COVID-19 pandemic, is therefore very disappointing. The explanation by the Trump administration was an objection to the indirect World Health Organization reference.

This is complete madness, given the profound need for global collaboration and unity in these times. I fear increased risk of threats against international peace and security, with violence and instability, further deepening inequalities and poverty as probable consequences. This is a dangerous game played by the US, potentially undermining our ability to fight the ongoing pandemic – a common enemy we have to fight together. We’re all on the same side in this war – or should be.

Further, to this dangerous US game that will harm global cooperation in science and public health, is the threat to freeze financial support to the WHO, and now also threatening to withdraw from the organisation. Several aspects of WHO can be discussed, yes, but the assignment to negotiate with all the member states is a huge challenge. The WHO is after all the only global arena for health that the world has – and it needs to be supported. Recently, together with 18 vice-chancellors of Swedish universities and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, SIGHT emphasized this view in an opinion article published in a Swedish daily newspaper. Now is the time to support WHO, not to defund. (You find the article here).

The COVID-19 has hit the world hard and quick. As of today, more than 5 million people have been confirmed with the disease and more than 330 000 have died. The damage to health and well-being caused by the pandemic is already huge with profound social, economic and political consequences. Many consequences hit women and girls in particular with millions of them losing access to contraceptives, which leads to estimated 2.7 million unsafe abortions and pregnancy related deaths, according to the Guardian and Marie Stopes International. 

The pandemic is also an existential crisis demonstrating that the way we live is not sustainable. It’s not only making obvious that so many countries were unprepared for tackling the immediate health consequences, but it also points out prevailing inequalities and widespread lack of social protection.

The pandemic is a wake-up call for people as pandemic health crisis really gets under the skin for each and every one of us. All of us are more or less hit by anxiety and fear.

But there are still other, even greater challenges we have to tackle. We still have to fight TB, malaria, HIV and NCDs. The pandemic is also connected to a climate change and environmental crisis. Many big cities have experienced more clear skies they probably want to keep.

However, it’s not up to a virus to solve our climate change and environmental problems. The CO2 emissions are still high, and we still have huge reduction of biodiversity due to global warming. If we manage to stop the destructive exploitation of nature, we will also reduce the risk for future pandemics and of course create beneficial effects on our planet and its people.

How do we then envisage the future after combatting COVID-19? Back to normal, which will focus on restoring the economy? Or – building on a more holistically sustainable society with less inequalities? We need a revived economic thinking that includes a circular economy approach.

In all this it is really absurd to note in times of pandemic that nuclear-armed states spent a record of $73 billion on nuclear weapons in 2019, a $7.1 billion increase from 2018 expenditures! The United States accounted for nearly half of that spending. According to research by ICAN (The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons) the yearly expenditure on nuclear weapons in the US alone could pay for 300.000 ICU beds; 150.000 nurses; 75.000 doctors; and 35.000 ventilators to address the COVID-19 pandemic. How can more money be spent on weapons than on protecting the health?

Post COVID-19 must build on resilient recovery of climate and environment adhering to the Paris agreement, ensuring a peaceful society with social protection, embracing democratic constitutions and multilateral institutions.

However, our future and the future of my three grandchildren is created today. Now is the time to redo and to establish foresighted and empathic leadership by using social, economic, environmental and political determinants of health. And to make political leaders accountable.

Academia, decision makers and civil society need to work together – without borders. This is becoming very obvious during this pandemic. I am impressed that The Lancet and other journals and newspapers are showing the way by opening up and spreading information and knowledge about COVID-19 to facilitate global co-operation and understanding. That’s the way to go.

Dear reader, let us turn this dreadful pandemic together into something constructive and positive for the times to come. Much hope can be found in the will to make a difference that can be found among students all over the world, as Pam Fredman, President of the International Association of Universities (IAU) highlights in an interview in this newsletter. Please take a moment to read it – and don’t miss the SIGHT student network report from Abeer Ahmad and Lydia Shotton.

Stay safe!

Share this

Sign up for our newsletter

Some more reading