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A similar commitment of American leadership is needed now to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, an enemy that is global in scale and universal in its disruption. Regrettably, any effort by one nation to deal with this global threat is destined to fall short.
We must ensure that we commit the emergency resources needed by our civilian agencies to meet the growing challenge, and we must mobilize and join our allies in ensuring a global coordinated response. We need to ensure that our collective efforts strengthening weak health systems in fragile states reinforce each other, not compete. We need to ensure not only that we develop a vaccine quickly, but also that we lead a global effort to ensure equitable distribution in lower income countries where the virus will be harder to contain.
This is not only the right thing to do, but it is the smart strategic thing to do and it is in our interest. The disease is a ticking time bomb in an increasing number of countries characterized by massive population growth, food and water shortages, weak health care systems, and inadequate governance, first responder, and security capabilities.
According to a report by the International Rescue Committee, 34 conflict-affected and fragile countries could see up to 1 billion COVID-19 infections, leading to between 1.7 million and 3.2 million deaths. The virus’ destabilizing effects can quickly turn fragile states into even graver humanitarian crises in places where we have long-standing national security interests. In Yemen, which has suffered from over five years of fighting, only half of its healthcare centers are fully operational and just a few hundred ventilators exist for a population of 30 million already facing a resurgence of preventable diseases like cholera.
In Syria, Greece, and Bangladesh, refugee populations in camps are at terrible risk with spillover implications for our national security. If anything, the spread of the virus is likely being underreported in these environments due to the lack of testing. Bangladesh is a fragile country with weak health systems and a total of 160 million people who live in an area the size of Iowa. Today, it also hosts 1.1 million Rohingya who fled from persecution in neighboring Myanmar and live in refugee camps without the ability to practice social distancing or handwashing that we have in the developed world.
Michael Novakhov – SharedNewsLinks℠