In the year since the World Health Organization (WHO) first declared COVID-19 a pandemic, the world has joined together to initiate a colossal, global response to COVID-19 in the effort to lessen its impact on vulnerable populations.
While COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to be reported around the world, the rollout of vaccines and the continuation of public health guidelines — such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing — are resulting in falling case counts in most regions, according to the BBC.
There is a lot that still needs to be done before the COVID-19 pandemic officially ends, but global cooperation has resulted in the fastest development of vaccines in human history, as well as promises to ensure equitable distribution to lower-income countries.
“The world has been staggered by the damage and death done by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Dr. Arthur Caplan, founding director of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, told Global Citizen. “But the world has also managed to mount an incredible response to the carnage and resulting economic chaos led by science and medicine through their unprecedented international cooperation, exchange, funding, and coordination.”
As we ring in this grim milestone, here are three noteworthy achievements that global cooperation has helped bring about in the face of COVID-19.
1. More Than $20.8 Trillion Has Been Committed to a Global COVID-19 Response
COVID-19 has reinforced the idea that infectious diseases know no borders, which is why nations had to quickly adapt and work with each other to fund vaccine research.
Last year, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) launched a call to support the rapid development and global manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines before the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Shortly after, world leaders pledged $8 billion to fund vaccine research, according to the New York Times.
This was just the beginning. Since then, governments, international institutions, philanthropic organizations, and others have contributed funds for research and equipment to help with vaccine development. As of March 7, $20.8 trillion had been committed to combating the virus and its impact, according to a data-tracking platform launched by Devex.
The commitment to vaccine research has resulted in the creation of several vaccines that are being administered around the world. The WHO has issued an emergency use listing for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and two versions of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India and SKBio, and will continue to approve other vaccine products through June.
Today, more than 300 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered across 100 countries worldwide, according to the BBC. If not for the global effort to fund early research and development of a vaccine for COVID-19, the world would not be witnessing the vast vaccination campaign that is taking place today.
2. The World Launched COVAX to Ensure Equitable Distribution to Vaccines Worldwide
To ensure an equitable COVID-19 response plan, global health actors, private sector partners, and others launched the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, a landmark global collaboration to accelerate the development, production, and global access to COVID-19 health technologies.
In August 2020, the WHO announced that 172 countries were in talks to participate in the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX), the vaccine pillar of the ACT-Accelerator that aims to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are equitably distributed to middle- and lower-income countries.
The WHO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and CEPI launched COVAX with the goal of delivering 2 billion vaccine doses by the end of 2021 to end the acute phase of the pandemic.
This February, Ghana became the first country on the African continent to receive vaccines from COVAX. In Southeast Asia, the first batch of a total of 7 million doses arrived in Cambodia, marking it as the first country in the Western Pacific region to receive COVID-19 vaccines from COVAX.
3. Countries Have Learned How to Prevent Future Pandemics
In 2005, 196 countries signed on to the international health regulations, a legal framework that defines countries’ rights and obligations in handling public health emergencies that may cross borders. No country is fully compliant with these regulations, according to anti-poverty organization ONE, which has contributed to a global state of unpreparedness during COVID-19.
As the world continues to adapt its response to the pandemic, coming together to develop guidelines to stop the spread of COVID-19 and accelerate global vaccine distribution efforts, countries have recognized the need to create institutions and systems that will help prevent future outbreaks.
Countries like New Zealand have managed to keep the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths relatively low due to early implementation of lockdown measures and quick adaptation of public health guidelines, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
Others have learned important lessons about protecting the world from emerging infectious diseases, such as by supporting vulnerable populations and coordinating global strategy to limit transmission.
Outbreaks of infectious diseases will continue to increase and inevitably cross borders, according to the WHO.
This year’s pandemic has helped countries around the world understand that some of the most effective ways of controlling outbreaks include investing in resources that protect communities — such as testing services and personal protective equipment (PPE) — and launching a multilateral response.
Dante Disparte, a member of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency's National Advisory Council, highlighted opportunities to learn from COVID-19 in the face of future pandemics in a recent report. These include the need to restore institutional trust, fund preventative measures, and ensure access to emergency health care.
“The key to avoiding the specter of COVID-19 becoming a seasonal threat is to combat the effects and short termism of vaccine nationalism and to ensure globally available vaccines, particularly for developing and emerging countries,” Disparte told Global Citizen. “Against the threat of pandemics, we are as strong as the weakest links, and in this area we have much work to do.”