A contribution by Marine Cottier, 1st-year student of the ESSCA Bachelor in International Management, Lyon campus. “As a young woman starting her adult life in the covid19 era, I ask myself a lot of questions about the situation we are currently living in and our future. I want to know what is our responsibility for this situation and what tools do we have to fight pandemics. Are we ready for the next one to come?”
At the time of writing, in mid-December 2020, we are in lockdown due to the Coronavirus. This virus has led to a global pandemic. The disease first emerged in China before spreading around the world. The huge numbers of people diagnosed with the virus and individuals who have died from it show us how unprepared we were for this. The pandemic risk is permanent, and it will always exist. A new pandemic can therefore happen in 2021 and unfortunately it is very difficult to prepare for it. The crisis we are going through will undoubtedly help us to be better prepared for the next to come. But it’s probably impossible to be fully prepared. On the other hand, preparing for a pandemic is one thing, but avoiding a pandemic is the main point we need to focus on.
Human activity and pandemic risk:
Global warming, globalization and our society of sedentarism are making us more vulnerable to pathologies and spreading epidemics. Pandemics are nothing new, we survived the 1918 flu, HIV, Nipah virus, avian flu, rabies, Lyme disease, Ebola and more. All of these are zoonoses. These are pathologies come from the animal world and they cross the species barrier to reach humans. All these pathologies will produce different diseases. But all these diseases have one thing in common: they are all linked to human activities and that is the fundamental problem today. The expansion of the interface between the animal and the human world (due to intensive agriculture and the extension of cities…) is at the origin of the increased risk.
- Zoonotic diseases often use a trojan horse: livestock, animals we use for various purposes. 1.5 of the world’s 4.5 billion city dwellers live in slums or shantytowns. In the backyards, there is always a pig or poultry. Promiscuity and population density are enormous in these neighborhoods. As a result, there is a lot of risk of spreading any disease that will emerge.
- Wild animal trafficking will also increase this human-animal interface.
- We also have an increase in population displacement. For example, Wuhan, the city of the emergence of covid19, was put in quarantine on January 22, 2021, while the 23 was the Chinese New Year. It is a Chinese family celebration that mobilizes a total flow of 2 billion people traveling from one place to another while we were in an emerging epidemic. The ease of regional dissemination of the virus may be explained by the social importance of January in Chinese society.
- The drug resistance mechanisms are very problematic too. We do not use antibiotics properly, as in the agricultural sector where we feed cattle with antibiotics to make them bigger, fatter. We end up with resistant bacteria. According to the WHO, we could soon move into “a post-antibiotic era“, in which previously easily curable bacterial infections would again become fatal due to lack of effectiveness of drugs.
All these factors lead to pandemics. Especially as we have a population that is very vulnerable to the virus. People are increasingly old and/or fat. Obesity is a very important risk factor. We must realize there are a lot of fragile people around us and we must be prepared for the next pandemic for their sake. We have tools to eradicate epidemics such as quarantine (already used in the age of the plague or right now with the covid19), vaccines (which eradicated smallpox) or the creation of organizations such as the WHO, the IHR and the GOARN. Building global collaboration with those kinds of organizations is necessary because without it, China might never have launched the alert about covid19 in January.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is an international public health agency of the United Nations. The WHO had already identified a disease x which, according to the models, could have had a massive impact on our current situation. However, there are many different viruses and a very large diversity of living bodies, of infection, of transmission. As a result, we can make plans for a virus x, but the problem is to adapt the plan very quickly. A virus will always go faster, and The WHO will always be behind the viruses, only reacting to the crisis.
The International Health Regulations (IHR) is an international agreement signed by 196 countries around the world, including all WHO Member States. It helps prevent and respond to serious public health risks that may spread across borders and pose a threat worldwide. The IHR strongly urges all WHO countries to report any unmarked transmissible infectious event. The global epidemic alert and response network (GOARN) is a technical collaborative mechanism between institutions to quickly identify and confirm the epidemics of international concern and respond to them as soon as possible. We have an identification analysis system, but the implementation needs to be improved to be ready for the next pandemic. This crisis has shown us how vulnerable the health systems even in rich countries are. There was a rapid saturation of health services. Moreover, the health crisis is both a revelator and an amplifier of inequalities and deficiencies that preexisted the pandemic. This crisis allows us to reflect on the place of science in politics, but we must be vigilant about it. For example, politicians did put pressure on scientists during the presidential elections in the United States. There is a balance to be found, and a discourse of transparency on clinical facilities is much needed, too, in France and everywhere else. This pandemic will make us think differently. Solidarity between countries is necessary, we need good cooperation and multilateralism to work together. In order not to be late against emerging viruses, funding for fundamental research should be increased. The human-animal-environment interface must not increase any further. The world cannot go back to what it was in 2019 when the covid19 pandemic will be over. There will be big changes in the way we travel, interact, and do business. Of course, people will continue to travel. Globalization is not going to stop. The world’s population will continue to grow. But we need to realize: Covid-19 is not the last pandemic we will face, there will be more, and we’d better be ready for it.
This student contribution was produced within the framework of the 1st-year module “Topics in International Relations” of ESSCA’s Bachelor in International Management, following a course design developed by the EU-Asia Institute. The opinions expressed are of course those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the institute.