Humans live in a deeply interconnected, interdependent world, and a COVID-19 outbreak anywhere can quickly become an outbreak everywhere.
That’s according to Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, who spoke as a witness in a U.S. Congress committee hearing on the global impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Jha was one among a panel of experts asked to testify for a March 18 hearing titled “A Year Out: Addressing International Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic.” Held virtually, the hearing was convened by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Jha reviewed the profound negative effects of COVID-19 on the global community: infections that may top one billion; an official death toll of 2.6 million, but likely much higher; economic decline (disproportionately affecting the poor); worldwide setbacks in education (again, with potentially dire outcomes for the already-disadvantaged); worsening democracy in many countries; and an increase in authoritarian leaders.
He called for a “vigorous, multipronged, multi-lateral approach to bring this pandemic to an end.” The priority, he said, should be vaccinating every high-risk person in the world quickly— by the end of 2021. Doing so will require not just increased funding, he said, but substantially expanded vaccine production. The decisions for the U.S. to rejoin the World Health Organization and fund the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) initiative are just a start: “We must do more to bring this pandemic to an end,” Jha said.
International collaboration is essential, he emphasized, because global disease outbreaks will become more common: “We are entering an age of pandemics,” Jha warned multiple times. “We must build the surveillance systems, the health systems, and the resiliency needed to respond more effectively to future health crises.”