Global Health is a Global Responsibility - Calling for Greater Solidarity
Updated: Aug 7
By Yara Changyit-Levin, John Burroughs School, St. Louis, MO
It is stomach-churning to watch influential political figures, including the President of the United States, play into racism and xenophobia as they shirk their responsibility to address global health. The coronavirus outbreak is not one country’s fault, but it is everyone’s responsibility. World leaders need to act like it.
I applaud the science communicators, health professionals, and politicians who already recognize this. What’s especially interesting about this frustrating time is that until the COVID-19 outbreak, Congress was making significant progress and building momentum for global health action. In 2019, two bipartisan resolutions built support for a bold, multi-year pledge to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria (Smith, 2019). By providing one-third of the Global Fund’s resources, the United States was on track to make possible an additional 16 million lives saved by 2023 ("Step up the Fight," n.d.). When health-focused foreign aid makes up less than one percent of the United States budget, it’s quite amazing what a difference that fraction of a percent can make in lives saved (McBride, 2018).
So, what happened? As is often the case, when crisis strikes, leaders elected to represent American interests turn inwards and focus only on domestic policy. As conversations over a “Phase Four” stimulus plan for America begin, it is time to resume global health work that can’t afford to wait any longer.
Prior to COVID-19, many Americans viewed pandemics as a thing of the past. Now, instead we need to convince panicked authority figures that COVID-19 is the very reason to invest in the international community, not an excuse for nations to close themselves off in regards to global health issues.
As you are reading this article, you’re most likely already aware that the global health community is in damage-control mode (Pai, 2020). Over the past twenty years, partnerships like the Global Fund and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, have made significant yet fragile gains in reducing mortality from the biggest infectious disease killers in the world. COVID-19 is a threat to this life-saving work because it infects patients already at risk from other illnesses, and because it also drains funds and political will away from those efforts.
We’re still losing 4,000 people every day to Tuberculosis (“Millions More,” 2019), and disruption to the global supply chain of essential drugs only worsens a situation that was already “off track,” as described by the World Health Organization (Brooks, 2018). Tuberculosis (TB) is just one of dozens of diseases like this! The biggest infectious killers won’t wait for COVID-19 to slow down (Pai, 2020).
Don’t let their names fool you. Gavi and the Global Fund don’t just focus on vaccine-preventable diseases like measles or AIDS, TB, and Malaria - they are a critical piece of the coronavirus puzzle. Both organizations strengthen health infrastructure in developing countries to cope with any pandemic, including COVID-19. The Global Fund announced on March 20 that financial assistance to eleven countries is being used to respond to COVID-19, thanks to new, flexible guidelines (“Global Fund,” 2020). Additionally, while a COVID-19 vaccine is at least 18 months away, Gavi is already preparing to distribute such a vaccine and meet demand for the most vulnerable areas (“Gavi Board,” 2020).
As a community of students and professionals in global health, we have the power and responsibility to educate our communities and our elected officials. Advocacy actions like phone calls and letters to members of Congress are a great way to capture policy-makers' attention, reminding them of the value of coordinated global health efforts.
Going forward, Congress needs to work with global health experts and advocates, making bipartisan strides not only for COVID-19, but other epidemics as well. Gavi’s replenishment conference on June 3 will be a great test if political momentum behind vaccines stands the test (“Global Vaccine Summit,” 2020). Only with a big-picture worldview, translated into compassionate, concrete action, can we save lives and get out of this mess into a more resilient future for all.
Yara Changyit-Levin is a Co-Leader of the RESULTS St. Louis global poverty group. She is the author of teenadvocates.blogspot.com and serves as Advocacy Lead for her local UNICEF Club.
Brooks, M. (2018, September 19). WHO: Global Efforts to End TB 'Off Track'. Retrieved from https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/902234
Gavi Board calls for bold engagement to respond to COVID-19. (2020, March 21). Retrieved from https://www.gavi.org/news/media-room/gavi-board-calls-bold-engagement-respond-covid-19
Global Fund Supports 11 Countries in Response to COVID-19. (2020, March 20). Retrieved from https://www.theglobalfund.org/en/news/2020-03-20-global-fund-supports-11-countries-in-response-to-covid-19/
Global Vaccine Summit 2020. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.gavi.org/investing-gavi/resource-mobilisation-process/gavis-3rd-donor-pledging-conference-june-2020
McBride, J. (2018, October 1). How Does the U.S. Spend Its Foreign Aid? Retrieved from https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/how-does-us-spend-its-foreign-aid
Millions more with Tuberculosis (TB) diagnosed and treated. (2019, October 16). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/nepal/news/feature-stories/latest-global-tuberculosis-(tb)-report-launched
Pai, M. (2020, March 17). COVID-19 Coronavirus And Tuberculosis: We Need A Damage Control Plan. Retrieved April 5, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/madhukarpai/2020/03/17/covid-19-and-tuberculosis-we-need-a-damage-control-plan/#f826c88295ca
Pai, M. (2020, March 29). AIDS, TB And Malaria: Coronavirus Threatens The Endgame. Retrieved April 6, 2020, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/madhukarpai/2020/03/29/aids-tb-and-malaria-coronavirus-threatens-the-endgame/#33e787ed5afd
Smith, C. (2019, December 4). House and Senate pass resolutions reaffirming U.S. commitment to Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Retrieved from https://results.org/news/house-and-senate-pass-resolutions-reaffirming-u-s-commitment-to-global-fund-to-fight-aids-tuberculosis-and-malaria/
Step up the fight: the Global Fund sixth replenishment. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.theglobalfund.org/en/specials/2019-01-11-stepupthefight/