Covid-19 pandemic exposed, widened inequalities: experts

Published March 13, 2021
A paramedic prepares a dose of the Sinopharm's coronavirus vaccine, donated by China, before administering it to a health worker at a vaccination centre in Karachi. — Reuters/File
A paramedic prepares a dose of the Sinopharm's coronavirus vaccine, donated by China, before administering it to a health worker at a vaccination centre in Karachi. — Reuters/File

KARACHI: Pakistan and other countries around the world can still achieve targets under the sustainable development goals (SDGs) despite challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, said researchers and development experts at a recent online seminar organised by Aga Khan University’s Institute for Global Health and Development (IGHD).

The pandemic, they said, had forced countries to consider the possible global impact of local events and take emergency actions that seemed unthinkable before it. This bodes well for future collaborations to achieve targets under the SDGs.

At the same time, however, it both exposed and widened existing inequalities. Lack of health insurance, limited universal health coverage, poor access to water during lockdown situations and cramped living conditions — which make physical distancing challenging — have suddenly become factors that determined chances of survival.

“While the virus has impacted everyone, it is affecting the world’s poorest and the most vulnerable people the most,” said Professor Zulfiqar A. Bhutta, founding director of the AKU’s IGHD.

“This is because many societies have not fully addressed long-lasting, underlying inequalities related to poverty, hunger, gender, access to healthcare and basic services such as clean water and sanitation that have been plaguing our societies for decades. This has led to people around the world facing simultaneous health, economic and social crises during the pandemic.”

‘Interdisciplinary framework needed to achieve SDGs’

The pandemic’s global impacts are sobering with an estimated 270 million people around the world at risk of starvation, 320m children out of school and 495m jobs lost, according to data from agencies of the United Nations.

Speakers at the event noted that the SDGs represent an interdisciplinary framework that requires stakeholders to assess all areas of development.

They noted how the SDGs bring into focus the root causes and ripple effects of under-development while providing a ‘to-do list’ that can help create more equitable and resilient societies.

For example, experts noted that SDGs’ targets related to achieving universal health coverage, bolstering the health workforce, protecting wildlife, and enhancing global early warning systems for health risks would not only protect against future shocks, but would also slow the cascading impacts of crises in low-income nations.

Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Centre for Sustainable Development at Columbia Univer­sity called on companies to be more mindful because their emphasis on profits was harming efforts to achieve sustainable development.

Dr Alex Awiti, vice provost of AKU in East Africa, spoke about the role played by universities in developing innovative ideas.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2021

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