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Knowledge Update

Asian Technocracies Show Success in the Global Pandemic Fight

As of this writing, the 2019 Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) global pandemic watchdog endcoronavirus.org projects that sixty-nine countries still need to take more concrete action to mitigate the spread of the virus. Over the early courses of the pandemic fight, Vietnam has been named by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a primary role model in disease mitigation as they implemented efficient and immediate public health policies that prevented that rise of the number of cases in their country (Dreisbach, 2020). 

Among the Asian nations that successfully dealt with disease mitigation are Taiwan and Thailand. Both countries are notable for their extensive experience in successfully handling pulmonary-related epidemics, which include the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak, the 2015 Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) epidemic, and COVID-19. 

Prior to stepping down as Vice President of Taiwan on May 20 of this year, human genetics expert Chen Chien-jen received global attention as his epidemiology specialization became vital in the public health policymaking process to fight the spread of the virus in the country. The Johns Hopkins-trained scientist-politician was considered by the global media as the country’s ‘secret weapon’ in fighting COVID-19 as had the both the medical, scientific, and political experience in providing guidance for the ‘Taiwan model’ of virus outbreak control (The New York Times, 2020). Upon stepping down from his position, he returned to the academe by joining Academia Sinica, one of Asia’s premier research institutions, to continue doing research about COVID-19 mitigation (Cheng, 2020). Moreover, it can be noted in an interview with the British broadsheet The Telegraph, he revealed that Academica Sinica is involved with the United States National Institutes of Health and European Union health institutions that are collaborating in the research work on the COVID-19 vaccine (Smith, 2020).

Moving to Southeast Asia, Thailand proved that disease mitigation and action can be prioritized despite their tense political situation. The country has the best medical infrastructure and investment in the region, and this proved well in the current global pandemic as their fatality rates are well below 2 percent (Abuza, 2020). As with Taiwan, medical institutions in Thailand are already well-established in the field of epidemiology and tropical medicine. The country lists as one of the top-ranking countries in the Global Health Security Index (Searight, 2020). Thailand also ranks second after Australia in the Global COVID-19 Index, the list of countries that has the best recovery rates globally (Thai PBS World, 2020). Beyond having well-trained experts that could fight the global pandemic, the country boasts more than a million healthcare volunteers that are assigned in villages throughout Thailand to closely monitor the health situation in grassroots communities (Ratcliffe, 2020).

As such, we can see the significance of appointing epidemiology experts in the public health policymaking process and implementation to successfully mitigate the spread of COVID-19. These technocratic practices have provided great insight and lessons as to how other countries may stand their ground in this global pandemic.

References

Abuza, Z. (2020). Explaining Successful (and Unsuccessful) COVID-19 Responses in Southeast Asia. The Diplomat. Retrieved from https://thediplomat.com/2020/04/explaining-successful-and-unsuccessful-covid-19-responses-in-southeast-asia/.

Cheng, C-T. (2020). Chen Chien-jen becomes Taiwan's first vice president to give up pension. Taiwan News. Retrieved from https://www.taiwannews.com.tw/en/news/3934346.

Dreisbach, J.L. (2020). Vietnamese Public Health Practices in the Advent of the COVID-19 Pandemic: Lessons for Developing Countries. Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health, 101053952092726. doi:10.1177/1010539520927266

Ratcliffe, R. (2020). Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam... How some countries kept Covid at bay. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/14/thailand-malaysia-vietnam-how-some-countries-kept-covid-at-bay.

Searight, A. (2020). Strengths and Vulnerabilities in Southeast Asia’s response to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Center for Strategic and International Studies. Retrieved from https://www.csis.org/analysis/strengths-and-vulnerabilities-southeast-asias-response-covid-19-pandemic.

Smith, N. (2020). Taiwan's Vice-President Chen Chien-jen on his country's fight with Covid-19. The Telegraph. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/taiwans-vice-president-chen-chien-jen-countrys-fight-covid-19/.

Thai PBS World. (2020). Thailand is ranked 2nd in global COVID-19 recovery index. Retrieved from https://www.thaipbsworld.com/thailand-is-ranked-2nd-in-global-covid-19-recovery-index/.

The New York Times. (2020). Taiwan’s Weapon Against Coronavirus: An Epidemiologist as Vice President. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/09/world/asia/taiwan-vice-president-coronavirus.html.

Impact of COVID-19 on Global Poverty and Hunger

As we all know, the novel coronavirus (Covid-19), has emerged in China as early as 2019. It took a few months for this epidemic to turn into a global pandemic which already infected millions of people. The unprecedented spread of this virus around globe has prompted many governments to take unprecedented actions such as nationwide curfews. Flights are grounded. International travel is almost forbidden. Tourism and restaurant business were down. Large scale events were all postponed and cancelled. We have not yet seen the full impact of the economic shock, but it is expected to be as deep as the one experienced after the sub-prime crises. 

The resulting economic recession due to the virus situation are having devastating effects on many households. The lockdowns have particularly affected the poor and the unhealthy. The question of whether this will be a temporary shock or a long-term trend is still unanswered. In this article I look at the impact on global poverty and hunger outlook from sustainable development perspective. Specifically, I discuss how the current situation is going to affect the UN sustainable development goals: SDG #1 (no poverty) and SDG #2 (zero hunger).

SDG 1: No Poverty

SDG1 aims to eradicate poverty in all forms by 2030. There is a special emphasis on eradicating poverty among vulnerable segments of the society. Unfortunately, the spread of the deadly Coronavirus has only increased the woes and sufferings of the poor and the vulnerable segments of the society. Millions of people lost their jobs. Those who work in daily jobs were affected the worst. The sudden loss of income and poverty was particularly evident in migrant communities such as laborers. Not only their families are at risk of extreme poverty, but also they found themselves in a desperate situation. Adding to this problem, many migrant workers are stuck abroad without any income as many flights are grounded.

However, the world has also realized the importance of social security during crises. The countries that have solid social security systems with unemployment benefits fared way better than those with do not have social protection. Perhaps, their success could set good examples for future labor policies. Also, the fiscal and monetary stimulus packages initiated by leading economies are likely to boost economies back in track. The impact of COVID-19 has brought the issue of poverty in the limelight and many individuals. Similarly, the world has also realized the need for unity in providing access to basic services, such as improved drinking water and sanitation.

SDG2: Zero Hunger

SDG 2 aims to eliminate all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030. In order to achieve this goal, the governments need to promote sustainable agricultural practices; offer their citizens healthy and affordable food. The initial social response during the pandemic was to stock as much as possible. However, due to travel restrictions, transportation of agricultural produce was negatively affected. Many farmer markets were closed, forcing the farmers to dump their produce. Equally important, the food-processing factories were shut down due to Covid-19 cases among workers.

The pandemic has also forced people to cook and eat healthy food at home. The boosted demand for healthy food is likely going to have a long-term effect on consumer preferences. Thus, we might observe sustained demand for organic and healthy food. Hopefully, the demand for junk food might be reduced in long term. One thing for sure is that food security will be back in national security agendas and may take some funds from defense into agriculture. The investment in agriculture might also serve to reduce poverty among rural households.

[1] An extended version of this article covering the impact of Covid-19 on UN-SDGs are available as a working article here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3592933