abeykoon1_INDRANIL MUKHERJEEAFP via Getty Images_vaccine INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP via Getty Images

What It Will Take to Overcome the Pandemic

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has hit some communities, countries, and regions much harder than others, it also has reminded us that our fates are intertwined. There will be more pathogens with pandemic potential in the future, but whether they inflict such catastrophic costs will be entirely up to us.

GENEVA – As special envoys on COVID-19 for the director-general of the World Health Organization, we have witnessed firsthand the intensity of the suffering caused by the pandemic, especially in poorer communities. This profound tragedy has been evolving before our eyes and still is nowhere near its end.

In our experience, the first priority in responding to an infectious disease is to save lives and protect the health and well-being of current and future generations. At the same time, we are increasingly concerned by the tremendous social and economic damage that COVID-19 has wrought. With people everywhere struggling to preserve their livelihoods under the constant threat of the coronavirus, it has become clear that this pandemic is more than a health emergency. It has become a global whole-of-society crisis.

In this context, one of our greatest fears is that after decades of improvement, future generations’ prospects have suddenly plummeted. Some regions are experiencing a reversal of gains achieved in the past 20 years. Achievements such as higher employment, expanded essential services, and better education (particularly for girls) are at risk. So are improvements in infrastructure, water and sanitation, disease control, political stability, and governance institutions.