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COVID-19 shines a light on our common humanity and shared vulnerabilities

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Photo: Paul Sharp
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Thursday, 2 April, 2020

These are unprecedented times for the health and wellbeing of the world. Elder and former World Health Organization Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland writes on the challenges posed by COVID-19 in The Elders' newsletter - Sign up here.

Dear Friends,

These are unprecedented times for the health and wellbeing of the world.

Millions of people around the world have been ordered to stay in their homes for their own safety and that of their family, neighbours, communities and health workers. National borders have been closed, much economic activity has ground to a halt and, tragically, many thousands of lives have already been lost from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Elders have called on global leaders and citizens alike to root their response to the pandemic in humanitarian principles and solidarity to save lives, defend rights and protect the most vulnerable groups in society.

The pandemic poses an unprecedented challenge for governments, heads of state and international institutions. As former leaders, we acknowledge the fearsomely complex political, moral and economic decisions those currently in office are having to take over the coming weeks and months.

During my time as Director-General of the WHO, we addressed the 2002/03 SARS outbreak. It took a massive global co-ordination to curb its spread. However, the Covid-19 pandemic requires an even greater mobilisation of ordinary citizens, as much as it requires the mobilisation of world leaders.

The Elders endorse the call of the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, which I co-Chair, for at least US$ 8 billion to be immediately injected into critical funding gaps to support the WHO’s emergency response, vaccine development, timely distribution of medical supplies and other critical measures.

Covid-19 shines a light on our common humanity and shared vulnerabilities, and it is only through a collective, collaborative response that all our essential interests can be served.

The rapid spread of the pandemic highlights the interconnectedness of today’s globalised world, and the need for a fully-functioning multilateral system that can oversee a comprehensive public health response based on the principles of justice and equity.

The Elders have for many years championed Universal Health Coverage (UHC) as the best way of ensuring affordable medical care for everyone in society, and the current pandemic shows just how critical it is that wealth should not determine health.

As the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, said so succinctly in his letter to G20 leaders last week,

Let us remember that we are only as strong as the weakest health system in our interconnected world.”

In this regard, developed countries and multilateral institutions should also coordinate measures to support other less-developed and poorer states, whose health systems and wider socio-economic structures risk being overwhelmed if the pandemic continues unchecked.

Politicians, policymakers and media organisations also have a responsibility to vigorously rebut false information spread with malicious intent at this time of global crisis.

Sharing information and changes in public policy and health advice in a timely, transparent and accessible way should be at the heart of every government’s communications strategy.

We can each individually play a part in contributing to overcoming this global crisis. We urge everyone to follow the World Health Organization’s advice on personal hygiene measures such as regular hand-washing, covering one’s mouth when sneezing or coughing, and staying at home if any Covid-19 symptoms are suspected. This is not only for self-protection, but for the benefit of the many vulnerable people who face greater risks than we may do.

Everyone can make a difference, and everyone has a responsibility to do their part. Only by asserting the common bonds of our humanity and our shared investment in sustainable policy responses can the pandemic be overcome.

With best wishes for your health and safety,

Gro Harlem Brundtland

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