The World We Live In: A Paradox of Interconnectedness
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The coronavirus has confirmed our fears that new and emerging diseases are more tangible than ever, and although countries are interconnected the impact of the virus reveals countries are ultimately on their own.

It has been a little over a year since a new world came into being as a result of COVID-19. It has upturned our pattern of social relations, clobbered our economies and trade relations, and continues to impact our psychological wellbeing. As of April 7, 2021 the John Hopkins University coronavirus tracker reported over 132 million cumulative confirmed COVID-19 cases and over 2.8 million deaths in 192 countries/regions.

The grim numbers say one thing; that what we are grappling with has been indiscriminate, unparalleled and the most global in peacetime memory, and the fallouts are intersecting with signature deficiencies in public health systems, public policy and emergency preparedness including advanced countries in whom other countries take solace in their capacity to deal with public health crisis.

While the Global Health Security Index 2019 placed the United States, United Kingdom and Canada on top of the list of countries better prepared for a health crisis, it turns out the US and UK were not ready to handle the virus relative to their initial responses—contact tracing, testing widely and procurement of PPEs—and are still struggling today to contain the spread of the virus. The Index failed to account for current political leadership in the analysis, but that is a topic for another day.

The pandemic is a bunch of different things, but it has also underscored two key facts about the world we live in—that the virus or new outbreaks of other diseases are more tangible, that countries are interconnected but eventually, countries are on their own. I shall return to this point later in the paper.

While we await a conclusive report from the World Health Organization about how COVID-19 first spread to humans in the city of Wuhan, before becoming global—the role of animal markets, human encroaches, and destruction of the biosphere are thought of as significant sources of human diseases.

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that three-quarters of new or emerging infectious diseases in people emanate from animals including swine flu, bird flu, SARS, AIDS, Ebola and potentially, the coronavirus. Across many parts of the world, people do not only live-in close proximity to viral-hosting wild animals such as bats, but they also raise animals for food—and experts believe this is an invitation to respiratory illnesses via animal-to-human viral transfer.

To put in context, human development and interlinkages of diverse societies across large geographical spheres have transformed over the last two centuries—in particular the Industrial Age, which caused to be an industrial economy in 1850; and the Digital Age of our time in which the whole world is instantaneously linked by data. Both periods birthed interactions across societies through trade, finance, enterprise, migration, empire, culture and war.

More profoundly, digitalization activities to build advanced economies have accelerated and improved our lives in many ways, but it has come at a greater cost to the planet, our lives and livelihoods. Zoonotic diseases including coronavirus are seen to be nature’s reaction to human invasion of wilder domains.

The scale of human footprints on the planet—through production and consumption of goods and services, and generation of more waste and greenhouse gas emissions—are imposing costs and spurring the odds for future pandemics and timeless ecological disasters. While global emissions dropped by about 5 percent in 2020 due to COVID-19, climate action champion, Bill Gates says the world habitually adds 51 billion greenhouse gases to warm the climate annually due to modern consumerist  lifestyle. 

Building a new model from the ruins of the old requires massive, fairer and sustained investments in clean energy, in sustainable agriculture, in crisis management measures and in conservation to mitigate the impact of health and ecological risks. Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of Canada and England argues “the legacy we leave depends on how much we value the future”. Mitigation measures should be at the heart of governments economic stimulus plan in post-pandemic era.

Canada, France, Chile, UK and Switzerland are part of OECD countries marshalling carbon tax trade-offs to raise revenue on carbon emitters to fund clean technology. Canada is further moving to ban single-use plastics by the end of 2021. These steps are mutually reinforcing as they create incentive for individuals and firms to be accountable in terms of where and how greenhouse emissions occur and allows government to circle back carbon revenues into the economy in the form of citizen reimbursement. 

Building climate resilience should be linked to investments in public health infrastructure. Looking beyond the developed world yields a considerably sobering picture. Nowhere are the effects of containment measures of the pandemic noteworthy than in exceptionally indebted poor countries—including sub-Saharan Africa—where the economic paralysis intersects with the fragility of public health systems.

The medical crisis has shown that the world has great benefits but full of ever-present vulnerabilities, without adequate buffers. Investments in infrastructure and public health administration must fundamentally come from the political leadership of the continent supported by the private sector.

Ghana’s Noguchi Memorial Institute of Medical Research and Nigeria’s National Incident Coordination Centre set up in 1979 and 2017 respectively are lessons of emergency preparedness, and both centres have been instrumental in coordinating local responses to COVID-19 with international partners. A lot more investments would be needed to build their own capacities and capabilities—contact tracing and testing, procurement of PPEs, vaccine development and vaccine awareness. 

From the perspective of the scientific community and many people around the world, the greatest optimism beyond 2021—in getting a handle on the spread and bringing back pre-pandemic culture—hinges on securing vaccine candidates, fast regulatory approval, distribution and access to safe vaccine doses and therapeutics for use.

But at the core of the realities of coronavirus is the paradox of interconnectedness and nationalism laced with competitions and conflicts. As countries race to procure vaccine doses, PPEs and critical diagnostics, national autarky (self-interest) and “international selfishness” have dominated vaccine distribution. Countries and regions that have the capacity to develop a vaccine are withholding it from political and economic competitors.

Such dynamics make Least Developed Countries (LDCs) with limited to no manufacturing and fiscal capacity more vulnerable. As more deadlier variants of the virus keep circulating globally, vaccine protectionism is also firming up. For example, with domestic cases ramping up in India, the country has temporarily suspended vaccine exports under the COVAX Facility for fear of rising domestic demand.

“Building a fairer, healthier world for everyone”—the theme for World Health Day 2021—is a reminder that vaccine protectionism is a suicidal mission; because no country can achieve herd immunity from COVID-19 and countries that had not eradicated the virus. It is a “burden-share” to save the gains but also protect the future. 

The Singaporean Diplomat, Kishore Mahbubani metaphorically puts it this way:

If we 7.5 billion people are stuck together on a virus infected cruise ship, does it make sense to clean and scrub only our personal cabins while ignoring the corridors and air wells outside the same boat, humanity has to take care of the global boat as a whole.


Daniel Asare is a public policy and political risk analyst, an international development specialist and president of Aegis Council for Policy Research & Innovation, a non-profit think tank.

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This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. Ben

    Good insight. Perhaps the biggest of issues now are the withholding of vaccines as political and economical advantage over developing countries.

  2. graliontorile

    Hello.This post was extremely remarkable, particularly because I was browsing for thoughts on this issue last Saturday.

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