We’re struggling with the coronavirus and we have the NHS. Now imagine what’s coming in Bangladesh and Sierra Leone
"The coronavirus crisis has highlighted a sad yet simple truth: our world is incredibly unequal. In the UK, while some who hide their profits in tax havens are now asking for bailouts, our heroic key workers who are underpaid and short of necessary equipment have been offered little more than a badge.
In the global south, families are crowded into refugee camps and slum settlements, and those in countries with health systems unable to cope with this crisis risk being forgotten altogether. With the economic fallout of this crisis projected to see up to half a billion people pushed into poverty, it is clear the impact will not be felt equally.
Despite what some might say, the process of tackling coronavirus has exposed the myth that we are “all in this together”. If that were the case then hedge funds would be following the lead of the G20 and as a first step suspend the debt repayments for the rest of 2020 from those countries who owe them. In reality, it is the poorest and most vulnerable who have already been hit hardest, and for whom the impact of Covid-19 will have long lasting and, in many cases, life threatening consequences.
The virus itself may not discriminate, but when it comes to access to healthcare, safe and sanitary living conditions, and a global economic downturn, it is the poorest and most vulnerable who suffer most greatly.
This crisis has brought to light a distinction between the mega rich, who avoid paying their fair share of tax and lobby governments to line their pockets, and ordinary people who play by the rules but are hamstrung and pushed down by factors outside of their control.
In the UK, our dependency on universal public services such as the NHS is at the forefront of our minds, but the only way to sustain such services is for everyone to contribute their fair share. Sadly, public services have been under attack over the last 10 years – not just here in the UK, but around the world. As this global pandemic is showing, we are only as strong as our weakest link; we must work together, across national borders, to overcome it. Resilient public services save lives – not only their immediate work, but also in their cumulative efforts to create a safer, healthier world.
Preventing a crisis is quicker, cheaper and more effective than trying to deal with it once it has spread. That’s why actions like the call for a global ceasefire by the UN are so important. It is also why we need to mobilise resources to the frontline as soon as possible.
We have seen how the UK has struggled with the health crisis despite the NHS. Imagine what it will be like for countries where there are only 13 ventilators to support the whole nation (Sierra Leone), or just 15 intensive care beds (Somalia), or 1 doctor per 2,000 people – one of the lowest rates of formal medical care in the world (Bangladesh). This is relevant now, but also shows us how much work we have to do to support other countries develop strong health systems in the future.
There is also a real danger that, due to a lack of genuine international leadership, there will now become a free-for-all with countries scrambling to procure whatever equipment they can for themselves rather than working together to increase global supply. The people who will be harmed most are the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.
At this historic moment, I am so honoured to have been appointed as shadow secretary of state for international development. The role of my government department around the world could hardly be more important at this juncture and our response will show what kind of Britain we want to be. Be it the coronavirus pandemic, the climate crisis or growing extreme poverty, we can only hope to overcome the challenges facing the world with global cooperation – cooperation which puts people, families and communities at the heart of our efforts.
That means working with our international partners at the broadest levels of global government and supporting the necessary actions led by those who live there. Many local actors such as women’s rights movements, faith groups and trade unions are already stepping up; now they need our support.
During this time of crisis, I will work constructively with the government and the international development community to push for social justice in the UK and abroad. I will work towards a system where our country is once again a leader on the international development world stage.
A country guided by a moral compass rather than being an introspective island.
A country which protects rights and speaks up for the most vulnerable and marginalised – and one which recognises and protects universal human rights."
Preet Kaur Gill MP
Shadow Secretary of State for International Development
You can read the piece on the Independent's website here.