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COVID-19 and the Impending Need for Global Health Governance
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COVID-19 and the Impending Need for Global Health Governance

Countries around the world are working to alleviate the vast challenges the COVID-19 pandemic is posing. Confronting this global problem isn’t possible without international cooperation. COVID-19 has implications for public health and the global economy. Endemic diseases contribute to the economic burden by impacting health, livelihoods, agricultural productivity and ecosystems.

The SARS outbreak of 2003 demonstrated the impermeable vulnerabilities of society to infectious diseases due to the lack of global public health governance. A pandemic illustrates the global lack of accountability and communication, which calls for a robust network of responses. No wonder health experts have said that “another pandemic that rivaled the speed and severity of the 1918 influenza epidemic was not a matter of if but when.”

Apparently transferable at an exponential rate, the COVID-19 virus will affect healthy adults and present risks for elderly people with underlying conditions. Asymptomatic humans (those with mild symptoms) transmit it, making it harder to curb than other viral epidemics such as SARS or MERS. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequality in and between countries and contributed to the burden of the poor and vulnerable. The recurrence of pandemics such as Ebola indicates poor access to health care, thereby calling for the international community’s continued dedication to improving health care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unexpected chaos in the health and development community around the world. It has both short- and long-term implications — affecting resource access, disrupting the supply chain and services, and causing financial strain. The pandemic could shrink the global economy by up to 1 per cent, according to the United Nations.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Lack of Leadership

The WHO has a strategic role to play in global governance of health, but this time it seems to have failed. Two factors that contributed to the failure of the WHO were its role in disease surveillance and response planning, and the belief that infectious diseases only affect poorly sanitized and governed developing countries. The call for systemic forms of collective action by multi-stakeholder innovation, and not reconstruction, is true today. Public health is crucial to “agreement on what we’re trying to do, the steps we need to take, the skills that are needed and the ways we can use resources,” according to a report.

Compared to previous pandemics such as SARS (10 percent), MERS (34 percent), and Ebola (40 percent), the global COVID-19 mortality rate has remained low (4.7 percent). Comparing COVID-19 to other pandemics reveals that SARS is highly contagious with an average of Ro[1] at 3, accompanied by moderately contagious COVID-19 (Ro between 2-2.5) and MERS (Ro below 1). This coupled with the rapid movement of people and goods between countries, led to COVID-19 spreading at a much faster rate, affecting 212 countries and territories, infecting over 5 million people and causing 300,000 deaths.

As countries struggle to control people’s movement to prevent the spread of illness, the possible emergence of a global pandemic by 2020 could trigger cross-border instability and conflict, according to the Global Trends 2025 report. The study goes on to say that

“If a pandemic disease occurs, it is likely that it will occur first in an area marked by high population density and close association between humans and animals, such as many areas of China and Southeast Asia, where humans live in close proximity to animals.”

Does that sound familiar?

Improving Global Healthcare

Despite the fact that the world has seen multiple epidemics in recent years, health threats tend to be low in priority and have not caused a major global conscription.

Global health expert Alanna Shaik argues that “coronavirus is our future” and recommends improving healthcare, investing in infrastructure and disease monitoring, enhancing the supply chain and increasing disease education as potential pandemic outbreak response steps.

International cooperation seems to be an effective way out of the COVID-19 crisis and to reduce its impact on our lives and living conditions. Spain’s foreign minister believes that international disunion has weakened the initial response to COVID-19 from the world. That in today’s time is easy to believe. Good health governance, according to the World Bank, requires a change of minds and policies by bringing reforms to the health system. What is required is proof of what works, political will, health care system commitment and openness and accountability.

The Institute of Medicine’s report highlights six main challenges to global health governance—leadership; harnessing creativity, energy and resources; cooperation and coordination among global health actors; funding and priorities; core survival needs; and accountability, transparency, monitoring, and enforcement. In its leadership role the WHO has struggled.

Evidence suggests that the ‘One health‘ approach could reduce the risk of developing infectious diseases. Key to the One Health Governance system’s success and its effective implementation is the integration of knowledge. The World Bank suggests that adapting to the One Health approach

“Will yield added value from the collective strengthening of human , animal, and environmental health systems to enable their coordination and collaboration to address threats to effective prevention , detection, response , and recovery at the human-animal environment interface.”

There is increasing contact in humans and animals in a globalized world, which could potentially lead to disease emergence and spread. Nations need to build a strong health system to minimize the risk and recurrence of infectious diseases.

For more on COVID-19, see our special coverage.


Abhishek Kumar is a second year student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University in Lucknow, India.

Rohan Prakash is a second year student at Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University in Lucknow, India.


Suggested citation: Abhishek Kumar and Rohan Prakash, COVID-19 and the Impending Need for Global Health Governance, JURIST – Student Commentary, May 25, 2020,

This article was prepared for publication by Tim Zubizarreta, JURIST’s Managing Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to him at

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