You know the 1996 movie Independence Day, where much of the World united to defeat a common enemy? Well, during the Covid-19 pandemic that started in 2020, pretty much the opposite happened. The World was about as organized as all-cat produced and directed episode of Dancing with the Stars or rather Dancing with the Stars Who are Also Cats. The global pandemic response had relatively little coordination, little unity. In fact, it was more like the 1983 and 2009 TV miniseries V, where many politicians, personalities, social media accounts and others seemed like they were actually trying to help the enemy, in this case, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). That allowed the virus to kill over 6.27 million people and counting, leave potentially millions upon millions more with long Covid, and cost society boatloads of money. That’s why the World Health Organization (WHO) will be discussing a possible Global Pandemic Treaty at the upcoming 75th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, from May 22 to 28. Yet, despite the clear need for more global coordination, some politicians, some celebrities, and a bunch of social media accounts have been trying to, guess what, argue against such a treaty. They even started a hashtag #StopTheTreaty.
Yeah, having no global agreement in place before the next pandemic is going to work out real well, right? Picture a football team running on to the field for a championship game with no real plan, no real strategy, no real agreement to play together, and players saying, “I will do whatever I want with the ball, because you know, freedom.” Things don’t go well when people do whatever they want with their balls, meaning the kind that you kick and throw, during a team sporting event. Similarly, having each country or even each faction within each country do whatever they want is going to end up in disaster. This is essentially what’s ended up happening in the U.S., which has suffered over a million dead since the start of the pandemic.
In a commentary published in The Lancet on May 16, a team of authors, most of whom are from the U.K., wrote that “the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted profound weaknesses in the global governance of health; inadequate preparation, coordination, and accountability hampered the collective response of nations at each stage.” They asserted that “Changes to the global health architecture are necessary to mitigate the health and socioeconomic damage of the ongoing pandemic, and to prepare for the next major global threat to health.” They indicated that “success will require clear demarcations of responsibility with a parsimonious role for international institutions. Although a pandemic treaty or alternative new instrument or process cannot solve all that is wrong with global health, it can deliver targeted improvements if supported by effective and clear global governance.”
Some have claimed that the Covid-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime or once-in-a-century event. Having a pierogi fall right into your mouth after a chain of events triggered by your cat may be a once-in-a-lifetime event. But the same probably won’t be true for pandemics. Chances are the World will see yet another infectious pandemic in the near future, if not multiple pandemics. In fact, anyone who was born before the Twilight movie saga began has already experienced two pandemics: the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic and the current Covid-19 one. Keep in mind what’s happened since the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) of 2003 left over 8,000 sick and at least 774 people dead. In the less than two decades that have followed, a new infectious disease threat has emerged seemingly every two or so years, ranging from the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) to the Zika virus. In fact, with climate change displacing plant and animal life around the world, the likelihood of more viruses and other pathogens jumping from other animal species to humans may increase, along with the risk of another pandemic occurring.
As the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated, viruses and other pathogens do not respect geopolitical borders. They don’t have to carry little EZ Passes or passports with their spikes. Therefore, as long as a pathogen is spreading fairly widely in one location, it remains a threat for everyone around the world.
Imagine how much suffering could have been avoided and how many lives could have been saved if only countries around the world had been more unified and coordinated with each other to combat the Covid-19 coronavirus. What if countries had warned each other earlier about the original SARS-CoV-2 and the emergence of new variants? What if countries had coordinated more on supporting and sharing research? What if they had more effectively pooled together knowledge and resources to further accelerate the development and implementation of new technologies and approaches for virus surveillance, prevention, and treatment? What if governments had banded together to negotiate better terms with vaccine, drug, and test manufacturers? What if countries had worked together to combat misinformation and support science?
Who wouldn’t have wanted better global coordination since early 2020? Well, apparently not the WHO and anyone who would’ve wanted the SARS-CoV-2 to have been better controlled, which should be everyone that isn’t shaped like a spiky massage ball. Yet, the WHO was trending on Tuesday with a number of social media accounts using the hashtag #StopTheTreaty. For example, James Melville, whose Twitter profile describes himself as a freelance writer, pundit, and liberal, tweeted out a video with actor Russell Brand that included some very naughty words (WARNING: don’t look at the following tweet if you’re sensitive to expletives that rhyme with feather-plucking):
Yeah, when you think science and global health, the first name that comes to your mind is Russell Brand, right? In the video, Brand claimed that a global pandemic treaty will be a “boot on your face forever” and that “the WHO will be in charge” of presumably the world. Umm, first of all, the WHO doesn’t have feet and thus doesn’t wear boots. Secondly, the WHO’s so-called power is completely dependent on what the 194 member states (otherwise known as countries around the world) want and the resources that are allocated to the WHO. And anyone who has ever seen the WHO offices should realize that the organization isn’t exactly swimming in money. The budget originally allocated for WHO for 2020-2021 was $5. 84 billion, which was just a little more than the $5.5 billion that Jeff Bezos spent to be in space for about four minutes, according to Joe McCarthy writing for Global Citizen. The WHO also clearly lists the sources of their funding.
Brand went on to claim that once a global pandemic treaty, people will look back at it and say: “we lapsed into a terrible technocratic globalist agenda where ordinary people have no ability to influence democratic outcomes where the media cooperated in keeping people distracted, numb, and dumb while the powerful funded non-democratic organizations to carry out their edicts.” Well, that’s some interesting Brand management of the situation. Brand said all that without even seeing what such a treaty would look like. Isn’t that a bit like saying that you don’t believe in any contracts or any treaties anywhere? What if a studio were to tell Brand, “we’d like you to act in this movie but don’t believe in issuing contracts?”
Then there were tweets from some folks like Gillian McKeith, who describes herself as a “television presenter. nutritionist & dietetic technician. No.1 bestselling author” and “the ‘Poo’ Lady” on her Twitter profile. She claimed that “194 countries plan to sign their citizens rights away via the WHO pandemic treaty” before anyone knows what specifically such a treaty may stipulate:
Meanwhile, Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida) asserted that “the WHO is a corrupt organization that must never be allowed to dictate health policy in America” in the following tweet:
While the WHO certainly has had its issues that need to be addressed, is blanketly calling the WHO corrupt without pointing to specifics that fair? Wouldn’t that be like saying that “politicians are corrupt and should never be allowed to dictate policy in America?” Plus, the U.S. should have a say in what the WHO does, assuming that the U.S. continues to serve as the WHO’s biggest donor and participate in the WHO. U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, JD, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra, JD, did call for a strengthening of global health security in a August 31, 2021, commentary for JAMA. They argued that “global leaders must modernize essential global institutions, starting with the World Health Organization (WHO).”
Gee, what would actually remove the U.S. from the WHO decision making process? How about “withdrawing from the WHO” as Florida House of Representatives member Anthony Sabatini (R) demanded:
Umm, didn’t then-U.S. President and current Mar-A-Lago resident Donald Trump try to do such a thing back in 2020? How did that end up working out? Isolating oneself from global decision making hasn’t tended to work out well for countries in the past. For example, years of isolationism ended up weakening China, leaving them susceptible to invasion by Japan prior to World War II and eventual take over by the Communist Party after World War II.
Speaking of China, here’s what Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) tweeted:
What exactly is the evidence that the WHO is controlled by the Chinese Communist Party? In fact, a stronger WHO might be able to push China into being more open and more transparently sharing information about any possible infectious disease threats and outbreaks. An important question is whether the Covid-19 pandemic could have been better mitigated had China had better disease surveillance systems, alerted the rest of world earlier about the initial SARS-CoV-2 cases, and collaborated more globally on early containment strategies.
Another China-related issue is why the WHO continues to exclude Taiwan from its membership. The world has much to learn from Taiwan’s effective SARS-CoV-2 containment strategies and other public health measures. Therefore, if you are worried about China’s influence, wouldn’t it make sense to push for more involvement of other East Asian governments such as Taiwan’s?
Ultimately, those opposing any global pandemic treaty don’t seem to be offering any viable alternatives to improve the world’s ability to prevent and control pandemics. It’s easy to criticize anything and keep yelling words such as “freedom” kind of how babies fight against wearing clothes and insist on pooping whenever they want to do or doo-doo so. What’s much more difficult is finding solutions.
If invaders from outer space were to appear now as they did in Independence Day, our world would be kind of in trouble. You’d have politicians, TV personalities, and others claiming that the invaders aren’t real and even siding with them. Our world needs to be more unified in order to more effectively fend off any major threats to our health, whether its infectious disease, non-communicable disease like obesity, or aliens with tentacles and telepathic ability. Remember what that John McClane character said in the 1988 movie Die Hard: “Now, you listen to me, jerk-off. If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. Quit being part of the [bleeping] problem and put the other guy back on!” It’s time to put real science and health experts back on.