Cease arms race and invest more on health, Corona’s message to world leaders

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The world is going through difficult times, as one of its kind in century, Corona virus has hit the earth with all its might, claiming more than 211,768 lives and infecting over 3,073,603 World over. Forget about developing and third world countries that lack proper health infrastructure to cater the infected patient population, but developed countries like United States of America, Italy, France, Germany and Spain among others are also struggling to come out of this pandemic, despite having world class health facilities. United States alone has more than 56,803 deaths, followed by Italy, Spain and France. The numbers are multiplying with each passing day, forcing respective governments to impose complete lockdown, thus bringing earth on standstill. Developing countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh among others are as of now doing well, but the matter of fact remains that if this pandemic reaches these nations with all strength, there would be havoc, considering the population and poor health infrastructure of these nations. Thus, a proper and well detailed preparation is needed to not only avert this pandemic but also to reduce its effect in the subcontinent.

Corona Virus has brought world leaders on their knees, making them contemplate over their mistakes of investing hugely in arms and weapons, instead of health infrastructure. For instance, in the last couple of decades, all countries have concentrated focus on the manufacturing, export and import of arsenal and high tech weapons. Developed and developing nations, in the name of security and defence, invested more on arms, particularly after Second World War. The world eventually accelerated this arms race during cold war, which is considered as an intense period between the Soviet Union and the United States. This was one of the main causes that began the cold war, and perceived advantages of the adversary by both sides (such as the “missile gap” and “bomber gap”) led to large spending on armaments and the stockpiling of vast nuclear arsenals. Proxy wars were fought all over the world (e.g. in the Middle East, Korea, Vietnam) in which the superpowers’ conventional weapons were pitted against each other. Resource-rich developing countries, in the wake of storing more arsenal sparked competition by using their wealth to build up their combat aircraft fleets.

This arms race was followed by attainment of supremacy, wherein those possessing nuclear weapons claimed to have formed the elite group of super powers, seeing others as just allies to strengthen their power and preeminence. Hundreds and thousands of dollars have been pumped into manufacturing of arms and nuclear weapons. The developing countries like India, Pakistan among others also followed the suit and instead of working on removal of poverty and strengthening health infrastructure, started pumping huge funds into purchase of nuclear technology. The growing danger of the nuclear-arms race failed to inspire much debate. Nuclear policy is no longer extensively discussed in the media; the public has been told little about a subject of existential significance; and questions once fervently argued have been largely forgotten. Why do we have nuclear weapons? What they are for? How might they be used? Instead, these questions are being addressed by a small group of policymakers. Many of the crucial details are top secret, and the mundane terms used in official discussions tend to hide the apocalyptic consequences at stake. The present situation has taught these nations that instead of spending too much on weapons, there is a need to heal the environment and strengthen the health infrastructure.

If we talk about India, there is hardly any health care system in place where government can treat one lakh persons at a time. As per reports and various disclosures there are few lakh ventilators across the country of over 1.3 billion population. The numbers are scary in itself, but this is the harsh reality. In arms import, India is at number two and quite potential contender to be included in the list of superpowers. As the Covid-19 pandemic begins making its way through India — the country has documented 939 deaths and more than 29, 000 confirmed cases so far. To fight the Covid-19, India is testing few thousand symptomatic patients, instead of going for person to person testing, which could be a probable reason behind low number of positive cases. Until recently, India had only 111 Covid-19 testing centers to handle a population of 1.35 billion people. The number of beds in government-run quarantine facilities across the country, meanwhile, is about 60,000. Faced with a looming surge of Covid-19 cases, the government recently urged private hospitals to begin admissions, and roped in 35 private laboratories across the country to conduct coronavirus tests. This came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on March 23, announced a 21-day national lockdown to contain the spread of the virus. Presumably aware of the plight of the public health care system, Modi also committed $2 billion to boost infrastructure through increased availability of testing facilities, isolation beds, ICU beds, ventilators, and other necessary tools.

According to the most recent government data, India spent only 1.28 percent of its GDP on health in 2017-18, compared to nearly 18 percent in the United States, and far lower than neighboring countries, including Indonesia (1.4 percent) and Sri Lanka (1.68 percent). Global health experts say that given the paltry expenditure, India does not have the infrastructure or financial capability to tackle a large public health disaster. Finally, it is not just government apathy that has made India so vulnerable to health shocks. India’s elites may have also played a part in demanding greater funding for big hospitals (tertiary care) rather than seeking more investments in preventive public health interventions. Moreover, the way this pandemic has trampled down super powers and economies like the US and the Europe on knees amplifies the fact that the virus cannot be shot down by a missile. Similarly, it has also busted the myth that only conscripts, mercenaries or enlisted men can hold the front lines since in this case we have doctors, nurses, utility workers and police standing in between the pandemic and the people. Hope the situation may also change the approach and orientation of governance worldwide by investing more in healthcare and other human resources rather than competing for military might. We must understand that nature is all powerful and we must look reality in the eye and see the world as it is, not as we wish it to be.

Pardeep Singh Bali is Research Scholar in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Punjabi University Patiala.




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