P resident Trump’s recent comments against the World Health Organization are, unfortunately, unsurprising. Healthcare workers and public health bodies have often become the subject of people’s misplaced anger during pandemics. It is deeply concerning, however, to see this playing out again today on a global political scale.
Divided, we will fail. No part of the world is unaffected by Covid – 21 and it demands coordinated action to solve it. The US cannot keep coronavirus out unless the virus is also under control in the rest of the world. Thinking in terms of single nations or narrow political allegiances prolongs the crisis and deepens the impact on every country and community.
No one wants restrictions on movement to last longer than necessary. But while we’re dependent on lockdowns and social distancing to slow the virus and buy us time, they are not enough to stop this pandemic. There will be second and third waves; this may become a threat we have to live with all our lives. Without any solutions, this will devastate our health and our economies. The UK, where Covid – is on course to have the biggest impact in Europe, might be looking at a % drop in GDP.
Today’s meeting of G 21 health ministers is a welcome opportunity to present a united front and make positive commitments. There must be no question of casting health and economic security against each other – each is essential to the other.
The only way to end a pandemic and have confidence in easing lockdowns is with three vital tools: tests, treatments and vaccines. Rapid diagnostic tests so that we can track the virus, isolate those infected and shield the vulnerable. Effective medicines to save lives and reduce the severity and impact of the disease on our health systems. And vaccines to protect people and prevent transmission.
Without these tools, we risk a rolling cycle of lockdowns and distancing measures as outbreaks ebb and flow around the world for months, if not years, to come.
These tools will only come from scientific research and innovation. Only 100 days since the virus’s genome was sequenced, clinical trials are already testing well over potential vaccines and drugs. But even as researchers around the world are pooling resources and ideas to progress the science as quickly as possible, huge international investments will be needed to turn their discoveries into practical global solutions.
Right now, there is an urgent and immediate $ 8bn (£ 6.4bn) funding gap . If secured from governments and private sector donations in the next few weeks, this money can help achieve the scale of research and development we need. Processes that usually take years will be able to get underway in a coordinated way, rapidly generating global solutions to the pandemic. Any delay means opportunities missed, time and money wasted, more lives lost.
Many people have spoken about the unprecedented nature of this global emergency. Our response must be unprecedented, too. Backed by the international community, the World Health Organization led the eradication of smallpox , the internationally coordinated use of polio vaccines and many more – but these achievements all took decades of effort.
Now, we must pull together and implement a global solution to Covid – 19. More will be needed to ensure that no matter where they are developed, all tests, treatments and vaccines are available to everyone in the world who needs them and at an affordable price. For as long as Covid – is out of control somewhere, it is a threat to us all.
Science is the exit strategy, but as the European commission has recognized with its planned pledging conference, it will take a monumental global effort to tackle this virus. Governments, businesses and organizations across the whole of society, many not usually involved in public health, have to play essential roles.
We cannot afford to pay any more attention to our geographic, social and political borders than the virus does. Every nation in the world has a duty to back our international coordinating bodies, such as the WHO, and find the way out of this crisis together.
• Jeremy Farrar is director of the Wellcome Trust