A year into the COVID-19 pandemic with 2.4 million people dead, the magnitude of the societal and economic toll globally is approaching proportions of a world war. The time has come to commit to a war in defense of humanity’s survival, with the required money, materiel and public support comparable to the immense task of defeating SARS-CoV-2.
There is an inherent weakness in trying to respond to a pandemic in a disjointed and uncoordinated manner, and the daily cost of such a piecemeal approach is sadly measured in human lives. Examples of this fragmented approach abound: from a lack of unified leadership at the United Nations (UN) and its Security Council, vaccine nationalism and the hoarding of protective equipment, to unwillingness by some countries to compromise on drug patents or openly share vital scientific data. A divided world cannot win this battle.
“The entire international community needs to treat this pandemic as if it was a fierce shooting conflict, because its impact is worse than any live-fire war in the world. While bombs may not be bursting in the air, millions are getting sick and dying, and we are currently losing the war,” said AHF President Michael Weinstein. “Prevention is inconsistent; diagnosis is inadequate; contact tracing and isolation is only happening in a handful of places; genomic testing is anemic; funding is grossly inadequate; information is not being shared freely; worldwide vaccination levels are pitiful; variants are getting the upper hand; and the world continues to be in denial about the magnitude of the threat.”
The aim of a “declaration of war” on COVID-19 is meant to strengthen sound public health strategies by borrowing the tenets of effective organization and coordination from the armed forces, not to militarize the response in a literal sense. Out of necessity to protect life and quickly respond to dangerous situations, the armed forces have honed the knowledge and skill of how to rapidly move people and equipment where they are needed, and simultaneously deploy a complex coordination system to ensure forces are supported and supplied.
“COVID-19 has caused more deaths annually than any other war since World War II. In other words, this pandemic has reached proportions equivalent to a world war but with higher mortality in more countries than in any other war in the history of humanity,” said Dr. Jorge Saavedra, Executive Director of the AHF Global Public Health Institute at the University of Miami. “The UN and WHO [World Health Organization] are themselves a legacy of World War II—they were created to prevent human and sanitary disasters caused by a world war from happening again. Now is the time to reform the entire system again to prevent future pandemics.”
The success of a military strategy in conflict situations, which is also applicable to a struggle against a deadly pandemic, hinges on identifying a clear end goal and progress metrics, mobilizing public support, establishing unified command and communications networks, gathering and sharing reliable and timely intelligence, and deploying responsive and adaptable logistics and supply chains. Regrettably, to date these strategic elements have been lacking at the global level to varying degrees and this is exemplified most tellingly by the impasse at the UN Security Council, a powerful global body that so far has failed to take united, consequential action on COVID-19. But most importantly, one cannot win without sufficient money. Unfortunately, raising even enough money to fully fund the COVAX facility to supply the developing world with enough vaccines has been an enormous struggle.
“The world cannot afford to live in denial any longer – we are now seeing firsthand the consequence of failing to prepare,” added Weinstein. “A decisive approach and mindset is what is needed to fight our common enemy in COVID-19. Until the world bands together with strength and absolute resolve, we will continue to cede ground to this faceless aggressor.”