fragile world order, thin veneer of civilization
Geneva, 6 Apr (Chakravarthi Raghavan*) -- It is nearly four months since the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the highly infectious upper respiratory COVID-19 disease it spawned, made its appearance and rapidly spread across the world, resulting in world-wide lock-downs, quarantines and isolation of individuals and families.
The initial cases of respiratory disease and of pneumonia in some appear to have been detected in Wuhan province of China by medical personnel there, perhaps in September last year. And initially the novelty or extent of the virus outbreak was perhaps not known, but the presence of a new virus began to be suspected. Experts from the central health ministry in Beijing were alerted and rushed to the scene, looking unsuccessfully for traces of the virus among bats in caves. In any case it was not initially publicised and made known to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Geneva. It was perhaps only in December that the anti-bodies among recovered patients and the RNA of the virus was found. Only around end 2019, when deaths began to occur, did China make it public, notified the WHO, and quickly shared the RNA with the WHO and some research labs abroad.
The Chinese news agency Xinhua has now established and made public late on 6 April a time-line of the occurrence and various steps taken. Perhaps it is only an independent investigation that would be able to clear the air, and prove or disprove allegations swirling around about the WHO and its leadership and alleged links with China.
While the US and the West have accused China over its failure to immediately recognise and notify the WHO of this new coronavirus, it took the United States, under the Ronald Reagan administration, three years, from the time the California medicos discovered the new human immunodeficiency virus and the AIDS disease afflicting the gay community there, before the US acknowledged and notified the WHO and began adopting precautionary measures and promoting use of condoms.
In the interregnum, AIDS had spread across the country, affecting both homo- and hetero-sexual couples, and across the globe too.
The origins of COVID-19, as a natural mutation, as many expert epidemiologists think, or some bio-experiment gone awry as some strategists in the West claim, and the role, if any, of the WHO, remain to be independently investigated and made known.
This though has not prevented everyone to jump in and publish their views on this, muddying up the waters.
Before absolving this or that nation, critics might do well to look at past incidents of foreign funded research projects, under the sponsorship allegedly of the WHO and other UN system organisations.**
COVID-19 has brought to the fore the extreme fragility of the world order and the thin veneer of our civilization and its much vaunted human solidarity, behind which the law of the jungle prevails.
Countries and their rulers present a sordid picture of attempting politics as usual, finger pointing at each other for blame, and engaging in competitive efforts to find cures and vaccines for exclusive use and thus to dominate global rivals, and enable domestic enterprises to secure monopolistic profits, at the expense of human life.
In sharp contrast, research institutions and the scientists manning them across the world, have set aside rivalries to be the first to discover a vaccine and publish the findings under their own names, and instead are joining hands to understand the nature and characteristics of this new virus and finding vaccines to counter it as well as curative medicines to treat it.
And in both cases, weeks and months of strenuous efforts, and testing without external un-scientific pressures, and under strictly controlled conditions, for efficacy and hidden hazards in each case, are ahead.
And those political masters and/or business interests attempting short-cuts, might do well to remember the thalidomide disaster that ensued in the past.
Meanwhile, after the Thatcher-Reagan counter-revolution and four decades of deliberate dismantling of the State from the public health sector, as from other sectors of governance in countries ensuring public goods for welfare and health, doctors and medical aides in hospitals and public or private clinics are trying to cope with an impossible situation, with lack of basic equipment and precautionary facilities, for attending to the daily increasing influx of patients, young and old, struck by COVID-19 and needing medical attention.
As some doctors in Europe have helplessly confessed and bemoaned in private, they have been forced to disregard their Hippocratic oaths and PLAY God as to whom to try and treat and save and whom to allow to die, giving them only some palliative care.
As veteran Indian columnist and commentator, T.J.S. George, puts it, "an invisible invader (SARS-CoV-2), just ten-thousandth of a millimeter in diameter, has turned us all into helpless nobodies."
Once China had made public information about the new virus and quickly made available to WHO and others the RNA from patients who had suffered and recovered (thus accelerating efforts to find vaccines), neighbouring countries (South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore et al) took note, and put into effect quarantines, testing and tracing of patients and those whom they had been in contact with, to control and prevent community spread and infection.
They have been reasonably successful. Perhaps it has been the West's belief in Exceptionalism, and/or racial and cultural prejudices that stood in the way of learning from the experience of these Asian countries.
But the US and Europe initially neglected the impending crisis, resulting in both emerging as epicentres of the pandemic, still spreading amidst predictions of intensification and casualties.
Despite many obstacles and distractions, and the attempts of non-medicals to influence State policies (by the likes of Giulianis and the Jared Kushners with the US President Donald Trump), the scientists and their collaborative efforts will sooner or later find vaccines and medicines to counter COVID-19.
Its general availability at affordable prices across the world though will require intense global civil society mobilisation and pressures to prevail over the greed of Big Pharma and corporations and political attempts of some rulers to prevail over their rivals in other countries.
What would the world be like after COVID-19 is brought under control, and there is some return to reasonable normalcy? What effect will it have on the world political, security, economic and social order and life? Will it be business as usual or something else?
How would it affect the current economic order, namely globalization (that Henry Kissinger suggested at Trinity College in Dublin, as US domination by another name, cited in Raghavan, Third World in Third Millennium CE, Vol 1, pp 224-225)?
Would it end as some in the Third World like Walden Bello, in the Philippines, think, or just go on as before?
Gautama, before he became and was acknowledged as The Buddha, responded to the query about the greatest wonder of the world, thus: "Man is the Greatest wonder, for he sees before him every day men becoming old and dying, but thinks he himself will be immortal (cited in Raghavan, Vol 1, Third World in Third Millennium CE, pp 224-225).
[** For the record,
there are two reports of the Public Accounts Committee of the Indian
Parliament dating back to the 1970s, the PAC Report 167 of 1975 (PAC_5_167)
and PAC Report 200 of 1976 (PAC_5_200) (https://eparlib.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/4081/1/pac_5_167_1975.pdf
[Disclosure: the writer was Chief Editor of the Press Trust of India when its Science Correspondent, K. S. Jayaraman, wrote the investigative reports, leading to the two PAC Reports. SUNS]
(* Chakravarthi Raghavan is the Editor Emeritus of the SUNS.) +