For many countries, the new coronavirus has triggered the biggest crisis since World War II. Why is this the case and what does international cooperation mean for the way out of the crisis?
- What is coronavirus, Covid-19 and pandemic?
- How does the World Health Organization work?
- What are China and other countries doing to fight the virus?
- Why is international cooperation so important for Norway?
According to ACEINLAND, many countries and the entire world community are used to dealing with infectious diseases and various forms of crises. But the new coronavirus is special because both developing countries such as China and rich countries such as Norway are hard hit. And although the virus itself causes many to become ill and leads to great strain on the health system in many countries, other parts of society are also strongly affected.
Not least, the economic consequences are very great when companies and entire industries have to close to stop the spread. Another factor that makes the corona crisis special is that we do not know how other countries will cope with the virus infection or how difficult it will be to promote international cooperation. That is why we are talking about a crisis that many believe is the biggest since World War II.
2: Pandemic and international crisis
The reason why the new coronavirus has developed into an international crisis is that it spreads effectively between people who have close contact. Most people who become infected experience only mild illness and recover quickly, but some become seriously ill. Older people in particular have a higher risk of dying. Since the virus is new, there is no vaccine yet.
When the virus spreads to many people, we are talking about epidemics, and if it is spreading to larger areas and to more places in the world, it is common to talk about pandemics. The new coronavirus is now a pandemic that cannot be stopped without the whole world community taking strong action, which has major consequences. That is why we are talking about the coronavirus as part of a major and international crisis.
3: World Health Organization
Although many countries have now closed their borders and are concerned about national infection control measures, international cooperation is absolutely necessary. When new viruses and diseases, such as Covid-19, arise, it is crucial that as many countries as possible report on how the infection spreads and how sick people become.
Without an international system of information, no one will get an overview and no one can prepare. The World Health Organization (WHO) is leading the international effort to gather this important information from all countries.
WHO was established in 1948 in connection with the establishment of the UN system after World War II. Today, the WHO is one of the largest and most important organizations in the UN system and has as many as 194 member countries, which is in fact one more than the number of countries in the UN General Assembly. The WHO has more than 7,000 staff in more than 150 offices, is active in virtually every developing country in the world and is headquartered in Geneva, where many international health organizations are grouped.
The WHO is governed by the member countries by sending representatives to the highest decision-making body in the organization, the World Health Assembly, which usually meets to decide important matters once a year. The day-to-day work is managed by a director general and a management team.
Norwegian Gro Harlem Brundtland was CEO from 1998 to 2003. Chinese Margaret Chan (from Hong Kong) sat in the chair from 2006 to 2017 and was succeeded by Ethiopian Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. He now has perhaps the world’s most important job when it comes to leading international cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus.
4: Cooperation and mobilization against the corona
WHO has many tasks, but a little simplified we can say that the main job is to ensure health professional cooperation between all countries in the world, and to assist poor countries in developing their systems for health and infection control and protect them from crises.
The WHO collects a lot of information about health conditions, viruses and diseases all over the world and uses this to provide advice, so that the member countries are updated on the global health situation. WHO also conducts important research and coordinates major research projects across countries and many organizations. All these tasks are essential for the international work against the new coronavirus and the disease Covid-19.
But the WHO’s efforts are guided and limited by the resources that member countries are willing to spend on international health cooperation. In addition, about half of the WHO’s income comes from what are called voluntary contributions. It is money that countries or organizations give to measures and projects that they, and not necessarily the WHO itself, want to prioritize.
Although health is in many ways a particularly active area in international cooperation, health issues also lead to disagreements between countries and actors with different interests. Historically, for example, work against both tobacco and sugar has been hampered by strong business actors in some countries. And the fight against HIV and AIDS has at times been characterized by the fact that both the authorities and religious organizations in some places have opposed some form of assistance, such as the distribution of condoms.
The WHO has done much to mobilize resources and provide advice in the fight against the new coronavirus, but much greater contributions will be needed if the virus spreads widely in many poor developing countries, which are completely dependent on international support.
The WHO has also made clear recommendations that all countries should implement strict infection control measures quickly, and that as many as possible should be tested for corona infection. But it has proved difficult to get countries to follow all the advice.
Now it remains to be seen how much the world manages to gather around common solutions to fight the new coronavirus.
5: Collaboration and competition for vaccine
Although the WHO plays a clear leading role in international health cooperation, they are certainly not the only important organization.
Firstly, health is such a fundamental societal issue that many of the largest organizations affiliated with the UN, such as the World Bank, the Development Program (UNDP) and the Children’s Fund (UNICEF), also lead extensive work in the field of health. Many large non-governmental organizations, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, also play important roles. Often, several organizations work closely together on major initiatives, but they also compete for responsibility and resources.
The prevalence of new diseases means that UN member states sometimes agree to establish new and specialized organizations. For example, the UN Coordinating AIDS Program (UNAIDS) was established in 1996, and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (GFATM) was established in 2002. When such organizations are established, it can contribute to more effective action against specific diseases, but it also shifts responsibility away from other organizations. When more people fight for money and attention, it can strengthen the overall effort, but it can also lead to the larger organizations losing impact on important issues and that there is more competition than cooperation.
In the face of virus-triggered crises, vaccines are especially important because viruses cannot be treated with antibiotics and other medicines in the same way as bacteria. Several international collaborations have been established for the development of vaccines. Two alliances, one known as Gavi (established in 2000) and the other referred to as CEPI (established in 2017) are examples of initiatives where several countries and organizations are joining forces to offer ready-made vaccines to developing countries and develop new vaccines in the face of new viruses and diseases. Both of these alliances have stepped up their efforts, with support from Norway and others, to develop vaccines against the new coronavirus.