The global response to epidemics like COVID-19 depends in large part on the political and economic systems in place among the world's many nation-states.
BUENOS AIRES — Is there a link between coronavirus and capitalism, or between epidemics in general and nation-states? And with regards to this particular epidemic event, what impacts are global economic structures and the world's current, geopolitical juncture having?
Between 2011 and 2018, the World Health Organization (WHO) detected 1,483 epidemic events in 172 countries. The body qualified them as signs of a new era of high-impact and swiftly spreading epidemics. And it has warned of the entirely credible threat of a respiratory pathogen ultimately provoking a global, biological calamity that could claim some 50 to 80 million lives and destroy up to 5% of the world economy, besides causing social and political instability.
Our current phase of globalized capitalism interacts with health at multiple levels, and through a range of "vectors'. Indeed, the global economy's structural and institutional conditions are what shape not just the possible results of a pandemic like the Covid-19 coronavirus, but also the global response.
The global economic paradigm is to allow the market to organize economic activity and then, undertake regulation and redistribution on the basis of results. But there are serious limits to this consensus model, as evidenced by the 2008 financial crisis and the world's failed efforts to fight climate change.
The macroeconomy also shapes the governance of health worldwide, and in profound ways. Production of and access to the necessary tools to prevent, treat and contain an epidemic (vaccines, diagnoses and medicines) are regulated by regimes and institutions, trading policies, investment conditions and pharmaceutical sector management.
The global economy is what shapes not just the possible results of a pandemic, but also the global response.
These conflicts of distribution cannot be resolved within national frontiers. The Chinese model of concentrated governance has fewer incentives to reduce control in response to events like coronavirus. In mid-February, there were changes to the Communist Party Central Committee or China's voting "selectorate." The changes suggested that President Xi Jinping knows the situation was badly managed, but Beijing continues to strengthen its operational control. And while this permits certain achievements — like confining some 50 million people within hours, or building a hospital in two days — decentralization has also proven its worth as a tool against pandemics.
The economist Amartya Sen has found that decentralization of power, information and resources helps create multiple and independent networks acting as an early warning system that can prevent hunger from rising to the level of famine, and illnesses from becoming pandemics.
Twenty years ago, China entered the World Trade Organization and committed itself to respecting the global system of rules through trade. Today, WHO is seeking a global response to the effects of an illness that began in China.
All of this is testament to the country's level of global interdependence, from economics and ecology to trade and even viruses, as global economics and policies also show their profound, underlying and multilayered effects on human health. These are part of the new (or not so new) challenges facing international relations in the 21st century.
*Turzi is an International Relations lecturer at the private UCEMA university in Buenos Aires.