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What's ahead in a post-pandemic world?

What's ahead in a post-pandemic world?
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The coronavirus seemed novel in almost every sense upon its arrival to the U.S. in the early months of this year. As a society, many realized time was not an available asset. Since the pandemic emerged in 2019, there are over 57 million confirmed cases and 1.3 million deaths globally.

Fast forward from March 2020 and there is great promise to move beyond the pandemic through the possibility of multiple effective vaccines. 

Pfizer recently requested emergency authorization from the Food & Drug Administration after they concluded their phase 3 study of a COVID-19 vaccine showing the vaccine to be 95 percent effective.  Moderna reported a near-identical efficacy rate to their vaccine. Other hopeful vaccine candidates are still yet to publish their large clinical trial data. 

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Yet after an effective vaccine is approved and the pandemic becomes largely controlled, millions are still asking, “Where do we go from here?” 

A greater focus must emerge on global health metrics and data gathering in low-resource countries. As the U.S. is struggling to develop testing measures and protocols for diminishing the spread of COVID-19, it is obviously not reasonable to think that the progress made in this country is equivalent in other countries. 

The frame of how to look at ending the pandemic must change. 

Earlier this month, Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Gates Foundation, stated “COVID-19 anywhere is COVID-19 everywhere” as her organization pledged $70 million to accelerate vaccine research and equitable distribution to prevent vaccine nationalism. 

While aiming to vaccinate the entire global population sounds idealistic, it’s a key element in ending this pandemic and it is possible. Inoculating the global population is dependent on three things after a vaccine is approved: capacity to produce doses of vaccines, funding, and systems to deliver them.

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As executive director of the Global Health Coalition, in my work, I’ve seen the power meaningful data has in rural communities in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Data allows administrators to better allocate resources, develop targeted health interventions and even engage stakeholders towards the just cause of equitable global health. 

That takes capacity building and partnerships, people bringing their talents together to solve a common problem. Without that approach, it is not possible to deftly handle global health inequities, including their ripple effects on rich countries.

Presumably, global health organizations will have to develop solutions to combat limited purchasing power in poor countries and improve fragmented health care delivery systems to prevent the dysfunctional distribution of a vaccine. That will take global cooperation and strengthening of global health institutions to provide equitable access to a coronavirus vaccine. 

A critical question is whether the inequity equation is even addressed. Perhaps some contend first world ingenuity and investment entitles the U.S. to receive the vaccine unilaterally first. A number of the companies developing these vaccines are publicly traded companies on the US Stock Exchange with responsibilities to shareholders who I presume will want to continue to be rewarded for their investments. Moderna in just this month has seen a 44 percent increase in their shares

Yet Australia and New Zealand are great examples of countries that acted early on to prevent the spread of COVID-19. If a vaccine is not distributed equitably and globally, those countries can’t open up their borders to their trade partners with further rippling effects in our global economy. 

As a pandemic is global in scale by definition, inoculating a portion of the global population is not going to control the pandemic. The ability to eliminate the spread of COVID-19 somewhere is dependent on eliminating it everywhere. 

It is urgent to take a serious look at moving forward especially when vaccines are being produced. What is necessary is a paradigm shift from populist ideas that embrace nationalism to one that embraces global solidarity. 

Unfortunately, history shows this will not be the last pandemic. The role of governments must strengthen global health institutions in order to combat current and future health crises. While the current administration states the World Health Organization has “failed badly”,  cutting off the U.S. relationship with them was not the right move, particularly not in the middle of a pandemic. 

The learning curve through this pandemic from understanding spread to therapeutics to a vaccine is impressive. It has been possible because of a commitment to gathering data to better understand the virus and in the global solidarity in fighting a common enemy.

Healthcare researchers, professionals and administrators rely on data. Healthcare providers collect data from patients and populations, synthesize and interpret it, and then prescribe interventions to diagnosed problems.

Resource-rich countries do this very well. They invest heavily in the ability to capture and analyze data as an effective method to improve health outcomes. But it is past time to think about evening the playing field globally. 

From the overview of the history, this pandemic is not as unprecedented as it seems. The United Nations and World Health Organization emerged in the aftermath of World War II, a period of intense global turmoil and human suffering. 

Now looking ahead to when the fire is out, and only the ashes of the COVID-19 pandemic remain, it will be necessary to reimagine and prioritize global health equity and solidarity. That is where we must go from here. 

Krzysztof Garbarz, DNP, is the executive director of Global Health Coalition, an assistant professor at Rush University and a practicing family nurse practitioner. He is a Public Voices Fellow through The Op-Ed Project.