Kigali – The current coronavirus health crisis highlights the need for greater international scientific co-operation and information-sharing between countries.
Seeing how this global health pandemic is different from past health crises and what it tell citizens of the world, I can confirm that’s not the worst global health threat we have faced.
The influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 was worse, the AIDS epidemic was probably much worse, and pandemics in previous eras were certainly far worse.
The 1918 influenza killed more than ten per cent of entire populations in some countries.
To the contrary, Covid-19 is killing less than five per cent of those infected, and unless some dangerous mutation occurs, it is unlikely to kill even one per cent of the population of any country.
Moreover, compared to previous eras, we now have all the scientific knowhow and technological tools necessary to fast-track interventions like acquisition of the right drug and ultimately a vaccine.
When for instance the Black Death struck, people were completely helpless.
They never discovered what was killing them and what could be done about it. In 1348, the medical faculty of the University of Paris believed that the epidemic was caused by an astrological misfortune.
In contrast, when Covid-19 erupted at the end of 2019, it took scientists just two weeks to positively identify the virus behind the epidemic, sequence its entire genome, and develop reliable tests for the disease.
Unlike in the past, even before a vaccine or the right regimen is established, we know what to do in order to stop the spread of this epidemic. It is likely that within a year or two, we will also have a vaccine.
However, Covid-19 is not just a health-care crisis. It has also resulted in a huge economic and political crisis. I am less afraid of the virus than of the inner demons of humankind: hatred, greed and ignorance.
If people blame the epidemic on foreigners and minorities; if greedy businesses care only about their profits; and if we believe all kinds of conspiracy theories – it will be much harder to overcome this epidemic, and later on we will live in a world poisoned by this hatred, greed and ignorance.
However, if we react to the epidemic with global solidarity and generosity, and if we trust and allow to be guided by science rather than in conspiracy theories, I am sure we can not only overcome this crisis, but actually come out of it much stronger.
As you may know, many organisations were created after the Second World War to promote scientific and intellectual co-operation through the free flow of ideas.
Free flow of ideas and co-operation between countries should be strengthened as a result of the crisis because our biggest advantage over the virus is our ability to co-operate effectively.
In a time of crisis, we need information to flow openly, and we need people to trust scientists rather than tub-thumpers. Fortunately, in the current emergency most people indeed turn to science.
The Catholic Church instructs the faithful to stay away from the churches. Israel has closed down its synagogues. The Islamic Republic of Iran is punishing people who go to mosques.
Temples and sects of all kinds have suspended public ceremonies because scientists have made some calculations and recommended temporarily closing down these holy places.
Scientific information doesn’t come down from heaven, nor does it spring from the mind of individual geniuses it’s why countries must invest in it also during ordinary times.
Having strong independent institutions like universities, hospitals with empowered research departments with experts who will not shy away from stating the truth to the public and policymakers for a timely intervention.
Good enough for Rwanda, we have a leadership that understand and appreciate the role of science in all aspects of life, and which is why from the word go, President Kagame and his leadership have been keen on promotion of science and innovation.
This is underpinned by the recently unveiled robots that are helping in the management of Covid-19 patients in order to reduce transmission risks for caregivers at the treatment centre at Kanyinya, Nyarugenge District.
The choices we make in these days will determine what will happen in the future. I hope countries will choose solidarity and co-operation. We cannot stop this epidemic without close co-operation between countries all over the world.
Even if a particular country succeeds in stopping the epidemic in its territory for a while, as long as the epidemic continues to spread elsewhere, it might return everywhere. Even worse.
The same is true of the economic crisis. If every country looks only after its own interests, the result will be a severe global recession that will hit everyone. Rich countries like the US, Germany and Japan will muddle through one way or the other.
But poorer countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America might completely collapse. The US can afford a $2 trillion rescue package for its economy. Ecuador and Pakistan don’t have similar resources. We need a global economic rescue plan.
But every crisis is also an opportunity. Hopefully the current epidemic will help humanity realize the acute danger posed by global disunity. If indeed this epidemic eventually results in closer global co-operation, it will be a victory not only against the coronavirus, but against all the other dangers that threaten humanity.
The choices we make now will affect our societies economically, politically and culturally, for years to come. We are faced with many choices. Not only the choice between nationalistic isolationism and global solidarity.
The writer is a financial inclusion expert.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.