- The pandemic is an opportunity to rethink humanity's future.
- From better decision-making to the need for international cooperation, here are seven things we can learn from this crisis.
The COVID-19 pandemic is not only a global health crisis; it is also a catalyst for reimagining the way we want to live going forward. From economic systems to sustainable development, decision-makers have an opportunity to move away from the status quo and make positive changes for the benefit of humankind.
Scientists can contribute to this disruption by sharing research data that can help inform good decision-making. We were overdue a pandemic, and the world wasn’t prepared for it. But what can we learn from the handling of COVID-19 that can help us prepare for future pandemics and other shocks? Here are my top-seven lessons that decision-makers need to take on board if we are to survive and thrive in future crises:
1. We need more evidence-based decision-making
In a world of misinformation and political best-guessing, scientific advice should be applied to every aspect of society so that individuals – including politicians – can make informed decisions based on the best evidence available at the time. Our world should be ruled with facts rather than rumours or myths. As we have witnessed in the way some governments have responded to the COVID-19 crisis, decisions made in the absence of facts have far-reaching implications for the economy and society. Public and private sectors should be actively involved in formulating important decisions that create impact, especially during times of crisis.
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2. Health and the economy are interlinked
Population health is a vital pillar of a strong economy. The total cost of the pandemic to the global economy is not completely clear, but forecasts earlier this year predicted a cost of 8% of real GDP. What is less well-known is that poor population health costs the economy twice as much, due to premature deaths and lost productive years. In a post-COVID world, health needs to be repositioned as an investment, not just a cost, that could accelerate economic growth in the years to come.
3. We need more global cooperation
From sharing health data to solving global supply chain issues, COVID-19 has reiterated the importance of international cooperation. Despite increasing nationalism and declining support for multilateralism in recent times, almost nine in 10 respondents to a recent UN survey believe that international collaboration is vital to tackle contemporary challenges. International organizations will continue to be instrumental in bringing stakeholders together to achieve common goals.
4. Global health is a shared responsibility
As we have witnessed first-hand, viruses do not respect borders. A global problem like a pandemic requires a global solution, and it is the responsibility of every nation to prioritize public health for the benefit of humankind. Even at the local level, action and inaction can affect global health. Therefore, we urgently need global standards for health systems, as well as a process of reviewing and governing research that could potentially be misused in the future.
5. Education is the best future investment
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses in educational systems in several developing countries and has made clear the urgent need for new educational strategies. There is a need to increase funding in education and develop effective strategies that future-proof education from future crises. The rapid shift to virtual classrooms has been a saviour for many children globally, but disadvantages those who live in poverty or in areas lacking technological infrastructure. So, future equality in education must be closely monitored to ensure no child is left behind in the technological revolution. Additionally, curriculums should start including critical thinking, so that future citizens are adequately prepared to sift fact from fiction and able to interpret data.
6. The effective role of media and public awareness
Alongside governmental public health interventions, public awareness of how to minimize the virus from spreading has been a key mechanism to curb the spread of COVID-19. Bogus remedies, myths and fake news have cost lives, and never before have journalists had such a responsibility to get the science right. Even though a lot of misinformation is spread on social media, it has been encouraging to see scientists using these platforms to counter misinformation with fact. The UN has also started encouraging social media influencers to help spread real news about the pandemic.
7. A clean environment and climate change are also global concerns
Pandemics are one of many global concerns that require collective action. In many ways, COVID-19 has been a wake-up call for the worldwide collaboration required to tackle other threats, such as climate change. Pandemic-induced lockdowns led to decreased pollution levels in some places, revealing the stark reality of human destruction to the planet. Therefore, humankind – more than before – should stand together to tackle increasing rates of pollution and its harmful consequences. Climate change is a top global security issue, and the response needs to match this. Global standards and laws for environmental conservation should be reviewed at higher global levels with better monitoring and evaluation.