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Covid-19 reveals populist leaders’ inadequacy

D Ravi Kanth | Updated on April 02, 2020 Published on April 03, 2020

Unpreparedness has deadly results   -  Getty Images/iStockphoto

Haphazard strategies, like those of US and India, are not working. Instead of lauding them, WHO must address the grim reality

Shambolic governments depend constantly on devising feats/jumlas for covering up their deadly failures to combat the worsening Covid-19 pandemic. US President Donald Trump has repeatedly denied the threat posed by the coronavirus. Already, more than 5,000 lives have been lost due to Trump’s denials and inaction.

In India, the Narendra Modi government has now resorted to a new brutal feat, after the demonetisation in 2016 — imposing a nationwide lockdown for fighting Covid-19 without preparing a comprehensive strategy. The Centre can claim credit for putting millions of lives of the poorest of the poor to grave risks, particularly by starving them.

It is little wonder that India is now witnessing a Partition-like situation, where millions of migrant and agricultural labourers who survive cheek by jowl are being asked to bear the worst punishment, including a ‘bleach shower’. The trade-off between the hunger and immediate survival of migrant labourers due to the nationwide lockdown, and the (inadequate) preparedness for fighting Covid-19 is so stark for the 1.3 billion people.

Almost on par with Trump and Modi, the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has accelerated the spread of Covid-19 by constantly denying the danger of this deadly disease, and now reaching out to his guru Trump for medical and logistical cooperation.

Glossing over mistakes

The US is facing an acute shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), ventilators, and masks, which is expected to cause loss of 1,00,000-2,40,000 lives. It is surreal to witness these leaders now scrambling to address the grave challenges now. After months of constant denials and delays costing lives on an exponential scale, they now resort to lockdowns without the requisite preparedness and a credible strategy.

Even World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has chosen to make namby-pamby statements on growing public criticism in these countries. The other day, he profusely praised Trump for his societal approach — which is a far cry from reality. He also showered praise on the Modi government for tackling Covid-19.

Tedros said that on the one hand, “many countries are asking people to stay at home and shutting down population movement, which can help to limit transmission of the virus, but can have unintended consequences for the poorest and most vulnerable people. I have called on governments to put in place social welfare measures to ensure vulnerable people have food and other life essentials during the crisis.” One doesn’t know whether he was referring to India or some other country.

Anyway, in the same breath, the WHO head said “in India, for example, Prime Minister Modi has announced a $24-billion package, including free food rations for 800 million disadvantaged people, cash transfers to 204 million poor women and free cooking gas for 80 million households for the next three months.”

Solidarity trials

Such announcements of glib schemes are one thing, and their actual implementation is another. In times of pandemics, it is important for Tedros and his team to provide an accurate and credible picture, instead of waffling on grim realities in these countries. The WHO has not provided adequate information on the so-called “solidarity trails” through which clinical trials for four drugs and drug combinations are being conducted in several countries.

According to The Economist (March 28th-April 3), the WHO is testing “four different possibilities: remdesivir (a drug developed by Gilead Sciences, an American pharmaceutical company), chloroquine, Kaletra, and Kaletra plus interferon beta, the drug which currently seem to hold most promise.”

The WHO must clarify whether patent rights on these drugs, for example remdesivir, will be waived off. Global civil society organisations have written to the Gilead Science for claiming extraordinary patent provisions using the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity. It is immoral and unethical if the WHO remains silent on this raging controversy. The WHO must issue an explicit statement that generic drug companies must be allowed to produce these patented drugs for free, as the WHO is rightly taking the burden for conducting the clinical trials of these drugs for free in various countries.

Almost 21 years ago, in his keynote address on “Health and Development” at the 52nd World Health Assembly of the WHO, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen warned: “Financial conservatism should be the nightmare of the militarist, not of the doctor, or the school-teacher, or the hospital nurse. If it is the doctor or the school-teacher or the nurse who feels more threatened by resource considerations than the military leaders, then the blame must at least partly lie on us, the public....” The shambolic rulers are now paying a price for their failure to address Covid-19, by ignoring Sen.

Published on April 03, 2020

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