COVID-19 officially claimed its millionth victim on Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University.
In reality, that grim milestone was likely reached months ago. Most global health officials believe the death toll has been undercounted in countless countries — including the U.S.
The coronavirus does not stop at national borders. In fact, it’s aided by the internationalism that defines modern life.
That global interconnectivity could be better harnessed to mitigate the pandemic’s impact. But predictable and lamentable divisions diminish a coordinated global approach.
Naked nationalism manifests itself in disunity over COVID at the United Nations and other international institutions, as well as in the U.S. pulling out of the World Health Organization — splits that may be particularly pernicious when a proven vaccine arrives and geopolitics infect an efficient, effective and fair distribution process.
Some countries have been considerably more successful in mitigation.
Their formula isn’t hidden, even if others don’t seem to see it (or willfully ignore it): testing, tracing, distancing — even quarantining — and masking on a mass and rapid scale, with an abundant trust in science and governance.
However, many developing nations aren’t equipped to deliver on this formula. Many developed nations are, but have chosen not to, unconscionably undermining science and politicizing an apolitical pathogen.
This includes the United States, whose scientific advancements and governance models much of the rest of the world used to envy and emulate. But the country has convulsed into an inconsistent and often incoherent approach to the virus and recently passed its own tragic toll of 200,000 COVID deaths, or about one-fifth of the official count.
The global death toll is surpassed by the number of COVID-19 infections, some of which have left survivors with ongoing health challenges. Those ranks increasingly include children.
Even those kids who’ve stayed healthy have faced educational disruptions that are setbacks in developed nations but life-changing in developing countries. Many children are forced into fields or factories or even illegal activities to help feed their families. And when they can’t get work, their families don’t eat.
“The whole ecosystem around kids is breaking down,” Nahida Ismail, an Indian teacher, told The New York Times in a searing report on the unrelenting catastrophe facing many of the world’s children.
The entire system that’s supposed to prevent educational, economic and health catastrophes is breaking down, too. Nations that perceive themselves as exceptional, like the U.S., should lead the way with a vigorous virus response driven by scientific and governing rationality.
“Responsible leadership matters,” U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Monday as he urged the world to “learn from the mistakes. Science matters. Cooperation matters — and misinformation kills.”
The victims include mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, friends and co-workers. Every death is a tragedy, and every effort must be made to not add to the grim, and growing, count.