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The Action Thread Part Two

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Without a global response, we risk a world of tremendous inequality

29 May 2020 9:10PM UTC | By: DR. NGOZI OKONJO IWEALA


Demand a Global Response to Coronavirus

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Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala is chair of the GAVI board and the former finance minister of Nigeria. Danai Gurira interviewed Dr. Okonjo-Iweala as part of our #PassTheMic series.

Here’s some of what she had to say.

This pandemic has made the world wake up to interconnectedness — how we are so interconnected that people in a remote area in one country are connected to a remote area in another country.

What that says to me is that no one in the world is safe when there’s a pandemic until everyone is safe.

If one person has it in some remote area, you may be in your rich country thinking: “We’ve now got it under control. We have the health systems, we have the test cases, we have the training, and we are okay.” Then one day that person in the rural area trades with another person, who talks to another person, and very soon that person boards a flight. Then before you know it, it’s back where you are.

That to me is why we all have to act as one, because we are only as good as our weakest link.

If we do not have a global response to this pandemic, we face the risk of a world of tremendous inequality, which will come back to haunt us. 

The priorities and the risks

Our priorities now should be on health action. For me, it’s a joint interwoven priority, particularly as far as developing countries are concerned. The top priority, of course, is to save lives.

This is twofold: on the health side, but also on the humanitarian side, because there are some people who are dying of hunger. They don’t yet have the disease, but because of containment measures like lockdowns and social distancing, they’ve had to stay indoors.

In our part of the world in Africa, there are many people who work in the informal sector — over 80% in some countries. This means they earn their living on a daily basis. If you ask them to lockdown, it means they can’t eat.

So, our priorities are first, to get the equipment and put all of the measures in place to protect our health workers and ourselves from this disease. And second, to make sure that those among us who cannot eat because of the measures are given food, and that our social safety nets deliver what they should.

When you have this kind of a shock, it means that everybody has to come together to solve it.

If we do not have a global response to this pandemic, we face the risk of a world of tremendous inequality, which will come back to haunt us.

Let’s remember that some developing countries in many parts of the world were doing quite well. Take Africa: We were not doing that badly in terms of economic growth and development before we had this exogenous shock, as economists call it. That is an event that we didn’t create, but that has come. When you have this kind of a shock, it means that everybody has to come together to solve it.

Let’s imagine a scenario where people are just solving it for themselves. They have enough medical supplies, they have enough to eat, and they are leaving people in developing countries who don’t have enough to take care of everything. What happens is people die. There may be uprisings and social unrest, and it will rebound on other parts of the world.

So, I think it’s better to spend money now to solve the problem in an equitable way than to spend tons of money later to avoid the same problem.

The strength of the human spirit

I’m optimistic that this will help us change some of our habits and show us that nationalistic sentiments just doesn’t really work in the long term. 

Much as this pandemic has been very difficult, it has also shown us the power of the human spirit. Just think of all those health workers. Some of them travelling great distances to help, to make sure that they can help save lives. The generosity of people who have come forward with food to help those who don’t have enough. Some wealthy people have donated quite extensively. Those who don’t have much have shared.

We’ve seen a good working of the human spirit all over the world, and that makes me feel optimistic.

I think we will learn lessons from this that will push us as a world in a better direction. I think this interconnectedness will show people that there’s nowhere to hide.

I’m hoping sincerely that when other problems crop up, we will think as a global community about how to solve them. For example, with the coronavirus vaccine, we know that if we don’t make it accessible and affordable to everybody, we’ll have that weak link that will come back to haunt us.

I’m optimistic that this will help us change some of our habits and show us that nationalistic sentiments, wanting to do only for ourselves, just doesn’t really work in the long term.

These excerpts from the interview were edited for length and clarity.

Hear more from experts in our #PassTheMic campaign, where global health experts take over celebrities’ social media channels to share the data, facts, and science we need to know to end COVID-19. Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for more.

Demand a Global Response to Coronavirus

People all over the world are standing in solidarity with each other to fight coronavirus, but the virus keeps moving fast.

The pandemic will inevitably wreak its worst on the communities and countries that are least able to withstand the shock. Let’s stand with the most vulnerable whether they live across the street or across the ocean.

We are one world and it’s time to fight for humanity against the virus. Sign our petition telling governments that a global pandemic demands a global response.

Dear World Leaders,

The world needs a Pandemic Response Plan to:

  • Protect the vulnerable, support essential workers, and make a vaccine available to everyone
  • Support people worst hit economically
  • Strengthen health systems so we’re ready if this happens again

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“If we do not have a global response to this pandemic, we face the risk of a world of tremendous inequality, which will come back to haunt us.”
Find out more from Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala about the fight against #COVID19 as she takes over Danai Gurira's social media account as part of #PassTheMic #ONEWorld
Read more here: https://go.one.org/2ZFjOiP



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It’s Day 10 of our #PassTheMic campaign and today, in solidarity with #ONEWorld, Danai Gurira is donating her social media channels to Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala (@NgoziOkonjoIweala), Chair of @gavi and former finance minister of Nigeria 🇳🇬
“I'm optimistic that this will help us change some of our habits and show us that nationalistic sentiments just doesn't really work in the long term.”
Find out more about from of the world’s top development economists about priorities in the global fight against #COVID19. https://go.one.org/2Zk80Cr #COVID19 "



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COVID-19 Threatens to Derail Fight Against HIV, TB and Malaria

IN Voices ON 27 May 2020

The following is a heavily abridged version of Peter Sands’ remarks to the 43rd Board Meeting 14-15 May – the first Board meeting to be held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As COVID-19 ravages the world, the fight against HIV, TB and malaria is acutely at risk. That fight is not merely at risk of getting knocked off course – it can be derailed entirely.

If health systems collapse, or treatment and prevention services are interrupted, the death toll from these three diseases (and others) will massively outweigh deaths from COVID-19 itself. Millions more lives will be lost.

This is what keeps me awake at night. The partnership that is the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria will have failed if this happens. This is the real test for all of us. It is why we must unite to win this fight.

Our role as a partnership in the global COVID-19 response is to help where we can because, firstly, it is the right thing to do, and secondly, because doing so is necessary to protect the gains made against HIV, TB and malaria and sustain the fight against these diseases.

We also bring a different perspective and approach that otherwise risks getting lost in the COVID-19 response – the involvement of civil society, the need for community leadership and the imperative to protect human rights.

Much of the international COVID-19 response so far has understandably been technology-driven and top-down. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned from the fight against AIDS, that is not enough.

We must recognize our world has changed – dramatically and irreversibly.

Following the global financial crisis in 2008, the worlds of finance, economics, and indeed politics were dominated by the aftershocks and reactions for the best part of a decade.

COVID-19 is much bigger. It will irrevocably rewrite the way the world thinks about global health. It will reshape the relationship between health and finance and economics. It will have profound political effects, both within the countries and for geo-politics. Whether we like it or not, everything we do will now be framed in the context of a world reeling from the shock of COVID-19.

We must demonstrate this is all one and the same fight, that the battle against infectious disease is not a singular battle against one particular virus, but a commitment to make the world safer for everyone.

We must finish the fights we haven’t yet won, such as the ones against HIV, TB and malaria – as well as win the new fight against COVID-19. That also means we must prepare ourselves for fights against pathogens yet unseen. And above all, we must leave no one behind.

A concept of global health security that only focuses on threats to those in rich countries will not work. Global health security must protect everyone, from new threats and old. Global health must be grounded in human rights, and it must simultaneously recognize the equally important role of science and communities.

This is a discussion that’s only just beginning, and the role of the Global Fund is only part of the puzzle. But as we were the world’s answer to the last big pandemic to strike humanity – HIV and AIDS – we are uniquely positioned to offer a perspective.

My nightmare scenario is we get knocked off course on HIV, TB and malaria while the world focuses on COVID-19 – then we inherit the new virus, once it’s no longer a threat to the advanced economies and to elites in capital cities, but is still killing hundreds of thousands – or millions – of the poor and marginalized. Then we’ll be asked to pick up the unfinished fight, as we have with HIV, TB and malaria.

This is not an implausible scenario. And we therefore must engage in the broader debate about how to fight COVID-19 and mitigate its damage in countries which might be easily forgotten by the rest of the world.

The Global Fund is one of humanity’s best creations in global health – a powerful, effective tool to translate global solidarity into millions of lives saved. We have a job to do – to beat HIV, TB and malaria – and we need to finish it. But we also need to recognize that COVID-19 has changed our world.

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"Growing up when people were making consoles and games no one was thinking about disability because it wasn’t at the forefront.

I’m not knocking any developers for that. They probably didn’t know anyone or have a disability themselves.

But when we see the growing community of disabled people online who want to be able to play the same games their friends are playing, it can have an influence. The louder our voices become the more people start paying attention."

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Because it’s impossible to remain socially distant in a densely populated residence or institution, the world needs to advocate for the rights of vulnerable children and adults living in institutional care and orphanages during the current crisis. Comhlámh and the Orphanage Working Group are working together to ensure that vulnerable groups around the world are protected at this challenging time and to make sure that every preventative measure is in place to guarantee their safety.


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JAN. 17, 2020




Bryan Stevenson Wants Americans to Finally Confront Racism

The lawyer and author is working to transform the criminal justice system.

Anthony Ray Hinton was working in a warehouse in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1985. Fifteen miles away, a manager at a fast food restaurant was shot. 

Even though there was no evidence linking him to the shooting and he had no criminal background, Hinton was blamed for the crime after being picked out of a police lineup. Police then pinned two related murders on him and he ended up getting sent to death row, where he maintained his innocence.

After 30 years in prison, Hinton was freed because of the dogged advocacy and legal work of Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). 

EJI has won release, relief or reversals for over 140 people wrongly convicted or unfairly sentenced to death. EJI represents people who have been denied fairness in the justice system because of “erroneous eyewitness identifications, false and coerced confessions, inadequate legal representation, false or misleading forensic evidence, false accusations or perjury by witnesses who are promised lenient treatment, or other incentives in exchange for their testimony.”

Stevenson represents children who have been tried as adults and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. In the US, children as young as eight years old can still be charged as adults and sent to adult prisons.

His work focuses on extreme miscarriages of justice, but it ultimately points to the broader dysfunction in the US criminal justice system. 

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This dysfunction often takes distinctly racist forms such as police violence, the over policing of black and Latino neighborhoods, cash bail that criminalizes poverty, harsh sentences for people of color, the racial disparity of death sentences, cruel and unusual prison conditions, and the disenfranchisement of formerly incarcerated people.     

More than 70 million Americans have criminal records that impede their ability to find work or get financial assistance, and black men are disportionately likely to be criminalized. In fact, the US Bureau of Justice reports that 1 in 3 black boys will end up in jail. 

Bryan-Stevenson-Equal-Justice-Initative-002.jpgBryan Stevenson, left, and Anthony Ray Hinton, right, on April 3, 2015, in Birmingham, Ala. After nearly 30 years on death row, Hinton was set free when prosecutors decided not to re-try him for the 1985 murders of two fast-food managers.
Image: Hal Yeager/AP

Stevenson argues that institutional racism in the US has its roots in the unconscionable brutality of slavery and the terrorism of the Jim Crow era, when thousands of innocent black men, women and children were lynched by white mobs. 

The lawyer and activist believes that understanding this history is key to addressing the problems of now. He’s not just dedicated his life to fighting for the condemned, poor and most vulnerable, but also to educating and engaging the wider public.

“I think if most people saw what I see on a daily basis when I go into jails or prisons, if they were in the room and trying to respond to children who have been put in adult facilities, I don’t think they would think differently than I do,” he told the Guardian.

He’s embarked on a campaign of radical exposure that includes documenting the more than 4,000 lynchings that occurred in the US between 1877 and 1950. These historical records are memorialized at the Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, where visitors can get a full sense of the scale and scope of racial inequality in the US. 

Stevenson is as compelling on the page and in front of an audience as he is when arguing for clemency. 

In 2014, Stevenson wrote “Just Mercy,” a best-selling book that tells the story of EJI from its founding, fighting the nation's highest death sentencing and execution rates, through a successful campaign to challenge the practice of sentencing children to die in prison, to revolutionary projects designed to confront Americans with our history of racial injustice. A movie adaptation of the book recently came out, and HBO released the documentary “True Justice: Bryan Stevenson’s Fight for Equality” in 2019.

Stevenson’s TED Talk has become one of the most popular episodes of all time. In the presentation, he talks about how black men and people in poverty are overcriminalized.

“Our system isn't just being shaped in these ways that seem to be distorting around race, they're also distorted by poverty,” he said. “We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent. Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes. And yet, we seem to be very comfortable. The politics of fear and anger have made us believe that these are problems that are not our problems. We've been disconnected.”

Stevenson believes that confronting the intersectional disparities in our society is key to overcoming them. He often points to countries that have forthrightly reckoned with ugly pasts like Germany after the rise of Nazism, Rwanda after the genocide in 1994, and South Africa after apartheid. 

“We have in this country this dynamic where we really don't like to talk about our problems,” he said in the Ted Talk. “We don't like to talk about our history. And because of that, we really haven't understood what it's meant to do the things we've done historically. We're constantly running into each other. We're constantly creating tensions and conflicts. We have a hard time talking about race, and I believe it's because we are unwilling to commit ourselves to a process of truth and reconciliation.”

By acknowledging the history of racism in the US, Stevenson believes that people will begin to better see how the present and the past are connected, and understand why structural reforms are needed.

But that’s not all. He also believes that we must step out of our comfort zones, put ourselves into the shoes of other people, and do the systematic work needed to achieve racial fairness and an end to poverty.

“In order to create change, we have to be willing to stand up when others are sitting, to speak up when others are silent, and to do the difficult, often uncomfortable work that others aren’t willing to do,” he said.

Fighting injustice is hard and tiresome — a reality Stevenson knows all too well. But he keeps going by staying hopeful.

“I am persuaded that hope is critical to our capacity to change the world, to increase justice,” he said at a Cisco-sponsored talk in 2019. “Because I think hopelessness is the enemy of justice.

“Injustice prevails where hopelessness persists,” he added. “You’re either hopeful or you’re the problem.”

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