The novel coronavirus pandemic has led us to a deeper understanding between the earth and the environment, binding citizens together on a global scale. Healthcare systems across the world are thriving to provide essential care to protect the population from health security threats and climate changes. The support to rebuild the economy after the pandemic should encourage health, environment, and equity protection.
Today, we live in an era where several crises are emerging every day, with unseen levels of environmental degradation, inequality and climate destabilization and surge in population, economic uncertainty along with increasing public health threats. These crises are slowly tipping the balance between a healthy environment and our economic model of the past decades, forcing the new generation to think of necessary steps.
Certain parallels could be drawn between the current coronavirus pandemic and some other contemporary crises the world is facing right now. A proper global-to-local response and long-term thinking are necessarily required. The world demands to be guided by science and technology, needs to protect the most vulnerable among the population, and requires the governments to make fundamental changes at the time of existential crisis.
Therefore, the 2020 coronavirus pandemic is leading us to a deeper understanding of the ties that connect us internationally and could help in getting a grip on the largest public health threat of the century, the climatic crisis. The World Health Organization (WHO) is continuously monitoring the devastating consequences of under-prepared health systems across the world while they are facing increasingly regular shocks. These impacts have a clear climatic change signature, such as the expanding range and spread of vector-borne diseases like malaria and dengue and increasing frequency of extreme weather events.
However, there is one thing common in all these health shocks: they affect the poorest and the most vulnerable the most. They become poverty multipliers, compelling families into extreme poverty because healthcare is expensive. Almost half of the world's population doesn't enjoy full coverage to the most basic health services when these health disasters hit, global inequality seems to be sustained and reinforced, and paid at a price of the lives of the poor and marginalized.
The most important lesson to draw from the COVID-19 pandemic is that well-resourced, equitable health systems with a strong and supported healthcare workforce are essential to protect the people from health security threats and climatic change. The austerity measures that are straining many health systems over the past few years should be reversed if economies and societies want to be resilient and prosperous in the long run.
For instance, Haiti could have been more successful in coping with and recovering from the dire effects of Hurricane Matthew that swept the nation in 2016. The hurricane was exacerbated by climatic change. If they had a well-sourced, resilient healthcare system, it would have been easier to control the situation. Similarly, several Iranians could have been saved at the early stages of the outbreak if the country if they had a better, more robust healthcare system.
The ongoing pandemic shows how inequality is a significant barrier in the assurance of the health and wellbeing of people, and how economic and social disparities turn into unequal access to healthcare systems. As a matter of fact, the ongoing health threat of the novel coronavirus is more significant for cities that are exposed to a higher level of pollution and people who are living in rural areas. The same could be said for the health impacts of climate change, which is due to one of the major causes, the burning of fossil fuels, which adds to the air population massively, impacting those in poverty.
The WHO claims that by reducing social and environmental risk factors people are exposed to, a quarter of the global health crises could be prevented effectively. Creating better environments for healthier populations and promoting Universal Health Coverage (UHC) are the two most potent ways in which long-term health impacts can be reduced. These steps will increase the resilience and adaptive capacity to both the coronavirus pandemic and climate change.
The pandemic has also forced the population to dramatically change their behavior to protect themselves to a degree most of them have never experienced. The temporary shift of gears could lead to a long-term shift in archaic practices and assumptions, which could lead to an energetic public drive for collective action and risk management. Even though climatic change puts up a slower, more long-term health threat, an equally dramatic and significant shift in behavior will be required to prevent irreversible damage.
Crises like this present an opportunity for a regained sense of humanity, in which people pay more attention to what matters the most: health and wellbeing of their loved ones, and by extensive efforts in providing health and safety of their community, their country and fellow global citizens.
When the world eventually overcomes the pandemic, the citizens can hopefully hold on to the shared humanity to rebuild the economic and social systems to make them more resilient, compassionate, and better in every aspect. The social and financial support will eventually result in better maintenance and resuscitation of the global economy post-pandemic, therefore promoting equity, health, and environmental protection.
Lastly, public health is a choice, a choice the world is now confronted with, and one we all have to make over and over again as we move towards a more sustainable, resilient, and zero-carbon future.