As the COVID-19 pandemic spread like wildfire across the globe, the fragility of our world and its people become increasingly clear. Underpinnings of civilisation — including long-established social, industrial, and educational systems — collapsed with the spread of the microscopic virus.
The pandemic revealed global vulnerabilities, including weaknesses in supply chains, trade, open sky borders and international relationships. Massive lockdowns exposed citizen unrest and social fractures. Though we are not yet on the other side of the pandemic, we are already grappling with a more divided and unequal world.
The pandemic has highlighted these critical flaws and challenges:
1. Healthcare disparities, such as unequal access to medical resources based on gender, social class, race, and geographical region
2. A lack of economic readiness and resilience
3. The quality of public response (whether a citizenry is attentive to scientific findings and willing to adhere to recommended guidelines like masks and distancing)
4. Citizens’ trust, or lack thereof, in government measures and protocols, such as mandated lockdowns
We have also witnessed how countries were observed and rated according to their successes or failures in responding to the Covid-19 crisis, which has created new norms for evaluating countries in the future.
For example, in a study published by Bloomberg, New Zealand is cited as a model of a successful national response, with Taiwan coming in second. The evaluation was conducted based on resilience, morbidity, death rates and vaccine availability.
Global health systems were not ready to serve massive populations becoming simultaneously infected by a virus, particularly since COVID-19 lacks a modern peer or predecessor. Without a template or a robust, organised response, countries have struggled to both contain the virus and provide effective health care.
The alarming infection rates and death tolls from continent to continent pose sobering questions about the readiness of current healthcare infrastructures to fight a pandemic, even in the world’s most developed and wealthy nations. Nationally and collectively, a focus on preparedness will be essential as we face future pandemics and catastrophes.
Critical inequality has been overshadowed by medical and economic urgency. Deep digital disparities, or a lack of equitable technological resources and infrastructure, has severely impacted the most vulnerable. A 2019 UN report found that 87% of people in developed countries use the internet, compared with only 19% of those least developed.
In the digital sphere, the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives recently launched the Digital School, an initiative that aims to provide certified online education to students across the world, availing all students, especially those the refugee camps, with the opportunity for distance learning. The aim is to reach one million students in its first five years
During a virtual meeting on the “Impact of Rapid Technological Change on the Achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals”, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stated, “Digital technology is central to almost every aspect of the response to the pandemic, from vaccine research to online learning models, e-commerce and tools that are enabling hundreds of millions of people to work and study from home”. A substantial vacuum of inequality exists when it comes to internet access and digital applications.
A new inequality as it comes to light
Soon we shall witness a new inequality as it comes to light. The most anticipated and essential vaccine in modern history poses substantial logistical challenges in reaching the world’s most vulnerable citizens, including women and children in underdeveloped countries, displaced populations, and indigenous peoples.
In the effort to address the above disparities, the UAE maintains its responsibility toward humanity, extending a helping hand to disadvantaged populations worldwide and across multiple spheres. In the medical sphere, the UAE contributed around 1613 tons of medical aid to 120 countries, reaching out to 1.54 million medical staff.
In the digital sphere, the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Global Initiatives recently launched the Digital School, an initiative that aims to provide certified online education to students across the world, availing all students, especially those the refugee camps, with the opportunity for distance learning. The aim is to reach one million students in its first five years.
To reduce vaccine inequality, Emirates Airline has joined forces with big pharma companies to overcome the logistical challenges associated with distribution. The goal is to accelerate the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, especially during a time when air travel restrictions exist between countries.
The world needs a more unified response to overcome the disparities and inequalities exposed and generated during the COVID-19 pandemic. Joint efforts and collective responses between countries, humanitarian organisations and the private sector can reduce current inequalities and mitigate others before they start.
Ruqayya Alblooshi is an Emirati columnist and researcher in the field International Relations. Twitter: @ruqayya82