I Survived an Infectious Disease. COVID-19 Shows It’s High Time to Invest in Global Health Security.
And it's up to us to call on our governments to commit funding to the WHO's Global Response Fund.
How much do you value your health and the health of your loved ones? What about your freedom to travel, go to restaurants, stores, work, and meet up with friends?
As the COVID-19 pandemic grinds communities around the world to a halt, it has served as a stark reminder for all of us that diseases do not respect borders — and they do not need a passport to travel.
This devastating virus is affecting every aspect of our daily lives as international travel is restricted and many country borders, schools, museums, community pools, parks, and churches have closed. Large group events like professional sports games and Broadway performances have been canceled, and even the future of the Summer Olympics is in question.
We must not adopt attitudes of "I’m healthy so it won’t affect me," or "I haven’t traveled to China so no worries, I’ll be good," or think, ‘I’m not over 60 years old, so I have nothing to worry about."
These ideas are flawed, as surely by now, we are all starting to realize just how interconnected we, as Global Citizens, truly are. The reality is that a case of COVID-19 anywhere in our world is a threat to the health of people everywhere in our world. COVID-19 is now at all our countries’ doorsteps and it’s time for all world leaders to start taking serious action to flatten the coronavirus curve.
I’m a polio survivor and still living with the effects of this horrible preventable disease. Not only are my legs paralyzed, but my lungs have been greatly impacted as I had pneumonia nine times before I even turned 11, due to the poliovirus affecting my respiratory system. Iron lungs were a common sight in hospitals during the polio epidemic in the early 1950s. They were large ventilators that helped polio survivors breathe after the virus had attacked their respiratory systems.
Today, about 70 years after the devastating epidemic, we are confronted with the fact that the coronavirus is now affecting people’s respiratory systems much in the same way that polio once did. We are facing the facts that this virus, just like polio, has managed to travel around the world. We’re hearing that there aren’t enough emergency room beds and ventilators for all the potential victims of COVID-19.
When I hear this, I feel like I’m a passenger on the Titanic, forced to wonder if I’m worthy enough to have access to a lifeboat.
Every life has equal value, no matter if you have a pre-existing condition or not, no matter if you’re young or old, no matter which country you live in, or what your social economic status is.
Community leaders must do a better job at articulating solid, cohesive, unifying pandemic plans for citizens to follow. In the current COVID-19 pandemic, we are hearing so many inconsistent messages. In one US state, people are on a beach; in other states, shelter-in-place orders have been put into effect. In some provinces in Canada, schools, restaurants, and bars are closed, while in some territories, community parades have received approval and bars and restaurants have remained open.
How can we expect our citizens to take this pandemic seriously when our leaders are being so contradictory? Now is the time to implement strong, national emergency measures and restrictions.
Money and efforts have been put into ending polio and other diseases like AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. But world leaders must now go further. They must continue to invest in global health security and the development of new vaccines, ensuring that everyone, everywhere has equal access to existing vaccines, too.
If we as a global community don’t continue to support this funding, we risk losing all of the hard work completed by health care workers and the gains made in ridding the world of preventable diseases, and we risk having new pandemics in the future.
We cannot risk losing other global health commitments in the shadow of COVID-19, but we must continue to fight for new funding and extra measures at the same time.
The time for unity is now. The time for global leadership is now. The time for Global Citizens everywhere to take action is now.
The world is using the blueprint developed when combatting other diseases like polio, Ebola, and Zika to stop COVID-19. We have the tools and the commitment of hard-working frontline health care workers. What is truly needed right now is the political will and financial commitments from all world leaders.
And it is up to us to call on our governments to commit funding to the World Health Organization’s Global Response Fund and to protect our own health — as well as the health of our fellow Global Citizens.
You can see all of Global Citizen's COVID-19 coverage here.
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Ramesh Ferris is a Canadian polio survivor and global advocate in the fight against polio. He has worked with Global Citizen, Rotary International, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.