I attended Dr David Nabarro’s debrief session on the ‘State of the Pandemic’ from Mumbai, India. As I reflect on the session, I am reminded of his comprehensive picture of the global pandemic today and how it relates to my home country. I take this opportunity to share the images that stayed with me.

Not without my data

The session began with what my professors of Health Policy would lose no chance of drilling in us – what does the evidence say? As Dr Nabarro explained, the latest WHO evidence of cautiously conservative figures on COVID-19 tells us that the infection in various nations is picking up faster today than it was at the start of the pandemic. Though earlier the global North dominated news cycles with its high number of cases, countries like India and Brazil have come up now, indicating that lockdown measures were successful merely in buying time. Similar inferences from the data on deaths cannot be drawn due to its poor reporting and the varying definitions of deaths attributable to COVID-19 across nations.

Despite these ambiguities, the resounding message of the data from countries in various stages of the pandemic has been to test, trace, treat, and isolate. As has become increasingly clear, this feat is all but impossible without able leadership and robust community participation. I need not look further than my own country where the state of Kerala has shown grit in early intervention, allowing it to come ahead of this pandemic, while the big cities of Mumbai and New Delhi continue to struggle with rising cases. Governments across the world are refraining from extending lockdown measures in light of the massive aftermath on vulnerable populations (ex. migrant workers, pregnant women, transplant patients, survivors of violence) which means that learning to prepare and fight the virus is the only plausible solution.

Social movements meet health priorities

In the spirit of fighting health problems plaguing the world, an important question related to systemic issues which affect health outcomes was raised by a member of the session. In my experience of attending dozens of webinars in this period, Dr Nabarro was one of the few hosts who passionately answered a question about the role of social movements (such as #BlackLivesMatter) in advancing achievements in public health.

Of the three key points he made, first was that all movements against any form of inequity or inequality are interconnected. Echoing that, I believe the inclusion of intersectionality of the oppressions faced by marginalised populations (Blacks in America, Dalits in India, LGBTQI persons everywhere) is necessary for any health initiative to make lasting change. Second, he drew attention to the power of networks in bringing movements together. The importance of this is reflected in the understanding of racism as an issue of lives, livelihoods and public health, all together. Third, he brought focus to the people who will live with the legacy of this planet and this pandemic, the youth of the world. Taking the streets and social media by storm, evidently, the youth want to speak about the issues that affect them. Health policies and programmes must listen. 

The way forward, for good

If one goes back in time to 2012, to the birth of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), they will find a resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly called ‘The Future We Want’, where nations committed to eradicating various levels of inequality. Eight years on now, as the COVID-19 crisis is carried on the backs of the same inequalities of the past, the glaring call for social justice cannot possibly be ignored. Another eight years in the future, global health policy and systems must be compelled to eradicate all forms of inequity and inequality, while also being prepared for ‘The Future We Didn’t Anticipate’.

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This article is a reflection by Dr Surbhi Shrivastava following the COVID-19 Open Online Briefing of Dr David Nabarro on 16 June 2020. It forms part of a collaboration between 4SD and One Young World to inspire greater systems leadership amongst youth during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Surbhi is a Senior Research Associate at the Centre for Enquiry into Health and Allied Themes (CEHAT), a non-profit organisation in Mumbai, India.

A dental surgeon and public health researcher by qualification, she works on issues of gender equity and women’s health. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she has been managing a rapid-assessment of essential health services in 11 municipal hospitals of Mumbai for dissemination among various communities.

She is a scholar of AstraZeneca’s Young Health Programme and a One Young World Ambassador.

COVID-19 Open Online Briefing #25
Tuesday, 16 June 2020
17:00 – 18:00 CEST

The views and opinions expressed in these reflections form part of the collaboration between 4SD and One Young World to inspire greater systems leadership amongst youth during the COVID-19 pandemic. They do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 4SD as an organisation or it’s associated personnel. Any content provided by authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.

One Young World (OYW) is the global forum for young leaders. OYW identifies, promotes and connects the world’s most impactful young leaders to create a better world, with more responsible, more effective leadership. The annual OYW Summit convenes the brightest young talent from every country and sector, working to accelerate social impact. Learn more about OYW at https://www.oneyoungworld.com/