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March 24, 2020

Lessons from the outbreak

Opinion

March 24, 2020

Millions of hapless masses around the world are scrambling to cope up with the situation arising out of the apocalyptic outbreak of the coronavirus. Heart-wrenching scenes of people dying on the streets of Iran, in the towns of Italy and at the health facilities of Spain have saddened every soul on this planet but it seems that the ruling elite of this world has been gifted with an innate penchant for apathy and nonchalance. T

hey stubbornly refuse to learn any lesson. For them, these people in more than 120 countries of the world are non-existent. They are so immersed in the world of greed, profit, militarism and war-mongering that they do not have enough time to turn their attention towards these suffering souls.

The powerful and rich countries of the globe should have led the battle against the virus that has already killed more than 10,000 people, infecting more than 200,000. But unfortunately at a time when the world should be opening its treasure chest for buying medical equipment and extending help to those at risk of physical extinction, we are busy carrying out experiments of lethal arms, ignoring the health sector and indulging in blame game. We are still squandering precious resources on non-productive things like defence and arms, claiming at the same time that we do not have enough material resources to deal with the pandemic.

It is not only poor states that are offering the excuse of less resources, even powerful countries are making the same claim. However, their spending on arms and insane testing of lethal weapons fly in the face of these claims of shortage of resources. The recent test of supersonic missiles by the US has added salt to the injuries of millions of Americans who want free medical care but the state insists that it does not have enough resources. The resources that have been invested in these destructive weapons have deprived millions of Americans of the much-needed medical assistance that they are desperate to get during these testing times.

The US possesses more than 6000 weapons of mass destruction and one of the largest armies in the world besides maintaining more than 500 military posts across the globe. Its defence budget is the highest in the world and it has squandered trillions of dollars on various wars and conflicts since the World War One. Over three trillion dollars were pumped into the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan only but when it comes to the health of Americans, its ruling elite offers various excuses.

Imagine, a country that is preparing a space force and testing supersonic missiles cannot find enough medical staff, hospitals and equipment to deal with the corona outbreak adequately. More than 27 million of its citizens are even finding it hard to get tested. In a recent report by Johns Hopkins University, it says that the US has a total of 160,000 ventilators available and 8,900 in the national stockpile. According to one report, the country would need more than 740,000 ventilators in case of a severe pandemic.

The number of hospital beds is only 2.8 per 1000 people, which is even less than that of South Korea that has more than 12 hospital beds per 1000 people. This number is ever lower than that of China which has 4.3 beds per 1000. One wonders that, if Italy with 3.2 beds per 1000 people could not deal with the situatio,n then how would the US with over 300 million population and less hospital beds cope?

The UK is also one of the biggest defense spenders in the world. Its defence budget was over 40 billion pounds for the year 2019 but it is also struggling to meet the shortage of ventilators which is currently 5,000 while the country needs 20,000. Over 2,000 people have been diagnosed with the coronavirus in the UK while over 100 have lost their lives. Other Western countries that have followed ruthless austerity policies over the years are also slow in buying the much-needed medical requirements to serve their people. These are the states that would be spending over 300 billion dollars on defence over the years after they committed to allocate two percent of their GDP for defence to appease Donald Trump. The story of other states, except a few, in the world is not very different.

One of the lessons this outbreak teaches us is related to our reckless spending on the non-productive sector of economy, which is militarism and defence. The world that has been spending more than $1500 billion a year on arms and defence finds it hard to arrange essential medical equipment and free testing facility on time. It is not ready to spend on the health of its inhabitants but would rather want to conquer space and annihilate all creatures on this planet.

From Pakistan to America, the ruling elites of the world think it is expensive to buy ventilators and arrange other essential medical equipment. One ventilator costs 17000 euros. Imagine how many ventilators and other essential equipment we can buy in 1800 billion dollars that we wasted on arms in 2019. If we really want to combat pandemics, we must change our priorities. Instead of pumping billions or rather trillions of dollars into arms research, conflicts and wars, we should divert our resources towards human welfare. Since health is one of the biggest elements of this welfare projects, it should take the lion share of states’ budgets across the country.

But this enhanced budget cannot serve people if we do not put an end to the influence of corporations into health matters. Instead of handing billions or possibly trillions of dollars to insurance companies and medicines monopolies, we should declare access to free medical treatment as a fundamental human right. Profiteering over medicines and medical equipment should completely be outlawed in the world. Research on medicines should not be monopolized by one country or a company, it should rather be dealt by an association of states that are bound to allow everyone to benefit from this research.

This outbreak also underscores the need to put our petty political interests aside and stop exploiting such situation. For instance, what is the rationale of continuing the sanctions that the US slapped on countries like Iran and Venezuela? Such sanctions should be lifted immediately, enabling these states to import crucial medical equipment that could save the lives of tens of thousands. No country has a right to feel triumphant by pushing the people of other countries towards death and destruction. Such attitude will only create hatred against the international system that legitimizes these sanctions, adding to the hardships of millions of people.

We should also stop churning out conspiracy theories over such infections. Giving a racial outlook to an outbreak is very negative. Such an attitude will only create fissures among the international community that needs a united front to deal with a catastrophe that is affecting millions of people across the country and pushing the world towards economic anarchy.

The writer is a freelancejournalist.

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