What are the real lessons we need to learn?


Dear Editor
Some days ago I was given a copy of an address given by the Secretary General of the United Nations. I have checked in the media daily to see if it has been given coverage but it appears not. I would like to offer some of his key points along with some comments.
The UN General Secretary writes “We are facing a global health crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations — one that is spreading human suffering, infecting the global economy and upending people’s lives. A global recession – perhaps of record dimensions – is a near certainty. This is, above all, a human crisis that calls for solidarity.”
Dr Guterre tries to lift us up to a state of solidarity , but even a cursory look at the media today in Guyana and the hatred and crass racism splayed across social media state clearly we are facing the pandemic with no semblance of solidarity

The Secretary General continues, “Our human family is stressed and the social fabric is being torn. People are suffering, sick and scared. Current responses at the country level will not address the global scale and complexity of the crisis. This is a moment that demands coordinated, decisive, and innovative policy action ….We are in an unprecedented situation and the normal rules no longer apply. We cannot resort to the usual tools in such unusual times. The creativity of the response must match the unique nature of the crisis – and the magnitude of the response must match its scale. Our world faces a common enemy. We are at war with a virus.”

As I reflect on these words I look out of the window and see the people of Georgetown going about their daily lives blissfully unaware and unconcerned by the warnings shared by experts throughout the world. Seemingly we think we know better. The next few weeks in Guyana will show who had the true measure of the challenge as we approach 1 million people worldwide affected with the virus.

The Secretary General reminds us, “Entire countries and cities are in lockdown. Borders are closing. Companies are struggling to stay in business and families are simply struggling to stay afloat. But in managing this crisis, we also have a unique opportunity. Done right, we can steer the recovery towards a more sustainable and inclusive path.. …”
How is Guyana responding to this warning, the rum shops are flourishing, the markets are busy and little or no protective responses are visible in the people.

Dr Guterre sees three critical areas for action:” First, Tackling the health emergency. …Even in the wealthiest countries, we see health systems buckling under pressure. Health spending must be scaled up right away to meet urgent needs and the surge in demand — expanding testing, bolstering facilities, supporting health care workers, and ensuring adequate supplies …..”

Do we have an accurate picture in Guyana in response is to these basic questions?
Dr Guterre however reminds us, “It has been proven that the virus can be contained. It must be contained. If we let the virus spread like wildfire – especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world — it would kill millions of people.”

If we look back at our actions in the months to come will we be able to say we did what we could or might some of the leaders reflect that the focus was elsewhere whilst we faced a pandemic?

The second point raised by the Secretary General was, “We must focus on the social impact and the economic response and recovery…. Most fundamentally, we need to focus on people – low-wage workers, small and medium enterprises, the most vulnerable. ….The recovery must not come on the backs of the poorest ….”

We surely need to study some of the sober words shared by our various commentators from many sides of the political divide.

Guterre states, “Disruptions to society are having a profound impact. ….More than 800 million children are out of school right now “

The closure of our schools continues, some schools have moved to online platforms, some of our media has in recent days tried to examine how widespread and how effective this has been. But we have to do more to ensure the poorest have access to the luxuries of the internet. We have no idea at present what the costs of todays crises will have on the mental health of thousands of persons in this country.
The third point shared by Guterre is that, “ …. We must ensure that lessons are learned and that this crisis provides a watershed moment for health emergency preparedness ….. More than ever before, we need solidarity, hope and the political will to see this crisis through together. “
That final point by the Director General surely resonates here at this particular point in our history. There will surely be those who come out of the present mire with dignity, self respect and a feeling that they did all in their power to respond with integrity to the unprecedented needs of the hour but there may be so many others for whom that reflection will be a painful process’

Dr Brian O’Toole