‘Drop jail threats. Vaccinate the world now!’
Could we cure all disease with a trillion dollars? As many reacted in fury to Britain’s 10 year jail threat for illegal travel, experts warned that the only real answer must be global.
“This is becoming an extended exercise in studied and deliberate cruelty”, fumed one Conservative MP.
He was referring to Britain’s latest travel restrictions.
Tourists from 33 “red list” countries must pay £1,750 for a 10-day hotel isolation. Those who fail to do so will meet a fine of up to £10,000. And those who lie about their travel history could face up to 10 years in jail – the same as the minimum sentence for manslaughter.
The rest of the world is following suit. By closing their borders, politicians can focus on battling Covid-19 in their own countries. But many believe this is not enough. Writing for the Financial Times yesterday, the economist Martin Wolf argued the virus “cannot be under control anywhere unless it is under control everywhere.”
One radical solution could be for higher-income countries to invest a large sum of money – for example, $1tn – into initiatives across the globe. This way, lower-income nations would be better able to tackle the virus themselves.
This approach could be expanded to tackle more than just Covid-19.
In 2013, a panel of public health experts argued for a “grand convergence” – where the majority of countries reach a similar level of healthcare – by 2035. To do so, richer nations would have to contribute their share.
Eradicating a disease is not an impossible task. Efforts led by the World Health Organisation have wiped out smallpox and shrunk polio from 350,000 global cases in 1988 to just 33 in 2018. Similar efforts could work on other conditions.
Such a scheme has a powerful moral charge. “No man is an island”, wrote poet John Donne. Many feel we have a human responsibility to prevent the suffering of others.
There are also strong financial arguments for the scheme. What hurts one part of the global economy hurts others. As economist Selva Demiralp explains: “When emerging markets suffer, advanced economies are going to suffer as well”.
Demiralp estimates an unequal vaccine rollout will cost the world between $1.8tn and $3.8tn over the next few years. In contrast, one-fifth of the world’s most vulnerable population could be vaccinated for as little as $40bn.
Could we cure all disease with a trillion dollars?
All together now
Yes, claim some. Viruses do not respect borders. As the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated, disease can only be eradicated if it is tackled on a global scale. Citizens fortunate to live in developed countries have a moral obligation to help the less fortunate. The short-term loss would be offset by a long-term gain: a healthier world is ultimately a more prosperous one.
Unfortunately not, say others. Money does not grow on trees. To generate the funds required to help eradicate diseases worldwide, the citizens of the world’s wealthiest countries would need to make a sacrifice many of them can not afford. Governments should deal with their own problems before they start helping others, especially in this time of crisis.
- Are the British government’s Covid-19 penalties fair – if not, what would be?
- Do rich countries have an obligation to help poorer ones in times of crisis?
- Foreign travel remains restricted. Create a travel brochure to attract tourists to your hometown instead, include both practical information and appealing details.
- Imagine the WHO has the resources to completely eradicate one disease. Create a presentation arguing why your choice of disease should be eliminated first.
Some People Say...
“Man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of poverty, and all forms of human life.”John F. Kennedy (1917 – 1963), 35th president of the United States
What do you think?
Q & A
- What do we know?
- Epidemiologists generally agree that at the current pace, it will take several years to immunise the world from Covid-19. Around 138 million doses have been administered globally – a tiny percentage of the world population of 7.84 billion. And a majority of jabs have taken place in the small number of developed countries able to pre-order large caches of medicine. Oxfam estimates that “nearly two-thirds of the world’s population will not have a vaccine until at least 2022.”
- What do we not know?
- There remains uncertainty on how long the protection granted by a Covid-19 vaccine will last. According to immunologist Bali Pulendran, vaccine durability in general is “not well understood.” The period of immunity someone gains from any inoculation can vary from person to person. And the protection granted by a vaccine differs from disease to disease. Influenza jabs can begin to lose effectiveness 90 days after administration, while a single yellow fever shot can be effective for a lifetime.
- World Health Organisation
- The WHO has an annual budget of $7.96bn, less than 1% of a trillion.
- A disfiguring viral disease estimated to have killed hundreds of millions of people before being eradicated in 1977.
- A life-threatening viral disease that can cause paralysis. It can be prevented with a vaccine.
- No man is an island
- Donne (1572 — 1631), who lived before the standardisation of English, actually wrote “no man is an Iland.”