When World War II ended, a massive global recovery plan was initiated, and we enjoy the positive reverberations of that plan to this day. The dawning of 2021 and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic call for nothing less than a similar worldwide initiative. Are we truly ready to collectively embrace this humanitarian call to arms?
As the coronavirus pandemic continues and nations around the world suffer, we need a powerful and comprehensive globally coordinated plan that will address the needs of low- and middle-income countries so that recovery from the ravages wrought by SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — can be overcome equitably around the world. So far, it seems that rich and powerful nations are gobbling up vaccine and treatment options as the developing world struggles to stay afloat without drowning in suffering, death, and devastation. Aren't we humans of a globally connected world better than this?
Rebuilding Through Cooperation
The Marshall Plan, also known as the European Recovery Program, was declared in 1948 and helped to rebuild Western Europe after the war's end. With the goal of reconstructing industry, infrastructure, and other ruined aspects of European society, the Marshall Plan rallied the resources to accomplish its goals and is also apparently credited with beginning the process that led to the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949.
Another major cooperative effort that defined much of the diplomacy of the second half of the 20th century was the United Nations, formed in 1945. And the nascent United Nations gave birth to the World Health Organization in response to the clearly perceived need for an international body to address issues of health on a global scale in 1948.
The Marshall Plan, the U.N., and the W.H.O. are three master strokes of post-war collaboration that were created by visionary leaders who recognized that the ravages of World War II necessitated massive reconstruction and a collaborative plan for unified responses to all manner of threats.
From the Paris Climate Accord to other cooperative multinational agreements, however flawed or controversial they may at times appear, humanity continues to attempt to come together when necessity strikes. And for those of us living through the worst pandemic in over a century, the absolute necessity for unification and equity amidst existential adversity could not be more urgent.
Equity Amidst Adversity
On almost every level, issues of equity related to addressing the threat of this novel coronavirus are paramount. From cutting-edge treatments to vaccines, access is already unequal between rich countries and those with fewer resources and clout.
According to an opinion piece in the Toronto Star authored by Peter A. Singer, a Canadian special adviser to the Director General of the World Health Organization, the "defining challenge" of 2021 is vaccine equity. Mr. Singer states:
"For governments around the world, vaccine equity will be the defining challenge of 2021. This will emerge alongside public health measures as a literal issue of life and death, and dictate the pace and extent of economic recovery. It will remind us that how we do something is as important as what we choose to do."
Mr. Singer continues:
"This issue must be addressed within and among countries. First and foremost, we must reject vaccine nationalism. As WHO director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has often said, none of us will be safe until we are all safe.
"A concrete way to join the global cause of vaccine equity is to support — either through dollars or vaccine doses — the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator. Its goal is to accelerate development, production and equitable access to tests, treatments and vaccines. For 92 low and lower middle-income countries, this access will be a lifeline, and for all countries it provides an insurance policy to access a diverse portfolio of vaccines. There is a need for $4.6 billion (U.S.) to purchase vaccines for at least 20 per cent of the population of all low- and lower-middle income countries, including those at highest risk of severe disease, as well as health workers — who have risked their lives to serve their communities."
While we here in the United States must ourselves address the many inequities brought into relief by the pandemic (e.g.: the disproportionate disease burden on communities of color, and lack of access to high-quality healthcare for those same communities), we must simultaneously look further afield to the larger worldwide picture. If, as the world's preeminent "superpower", we truly wish to serve as beacons of equality and democratic rule to the rest of the world, then we must set a righteous example of how we treat our own vulnerable citizens, and then bring that same mindset to the global challenge before us.
A Marshall Plan for Today
It is crystal clear that we are in dire need of a Marshall Plan for a world under siege by SARS-CoV-2. As the virus mutates and becomes more highly transmissible, we must prepare for every possible scenario, including but not limited to further mutations, nation-specific economic collapse, and challenges of infrastructure and distribution. We must also respond to the threat of mass resistance to receiving the vaccine, rampant conspiracy theories, and wealthier countries leaving poorer nations (who deserve protection from the pandemic as much as we do) in the lurch and fending for themselves in a brutal winner-takes-all global market.
The time has come for an unprecedented international effort to combat this coronavirus from the standpoint of assuring that all nations receive equitable relief. The long-term economic consequences of the pandemic are yet to be fully known. Countries like Haiti, Jamaica, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan — to name only a few — must be recipients of our largesse without amassing more debt (do you hear that, World Trade Organization?), and breakthroughs in the treatment and prevention of COVID-19 must be made universally available.
W.H.O. director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is absolutely correct when he states that none of us will be safe until we are all safe. In that regard, history will be the harshest of judges of how readily we chose to embrace that urgently humanitarian ethos.
(Note: This article was originally published on LinkedIn on January 3, 2020.)