The Jakarta Post
The triumph of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the United State election and the Biden-Harris administration will have significant impact in strengthening global leadership and international cooperation to combat COVID-19.
Biden-Harris in their campaign as well as in their victory speech strongly emphasized the importance of science, scientists and a scientific approach to fighting the pandemic. Both mentioned the essential role of science, decency and hope amid the ravaging pandemic in the US and many other countries in the world.
Numerous leaders and people worldwide are hopeful that a Biden-Harris administration will fix the US anti-science and poor approach to COVID-19 during the Trump-Pence presidency. They also expect that the Biden-Harris administration will take back the US’ traditional and key role in leading as well as facilitating effective global leadership and partnership to address COVID-19 and other global health issues.
Published a few hours after their victory was announced, the new Biden–Harris transition website stated the four key policy areas Biden and Harris have campaigned on, promising to be ready to address them on day one, that is COVID-19, economic recovery, climate change and racial equity. These indicated the potential for the new administration to look beyond America’s borders and begin a difficult but essential task of restoring trust and relationships around the world.
In addition, just two days after being declared winners of the US election, president elect Biden and vice-president elect Harris released a COVID-19 advisory board that consists of prominent biomedical and public-health experts who will assist them in crafting a solid pandemic plan and response as they transition into office.
This COVID-19 advisory board is led by three co-chairs, namely former president Barack Obama's surgeon-general, Vivek H. Murthy, former Food and Drug Administration head David Kessler, and Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine. Observers appreciate the board members as an experienced and impressive team.
The prompt action and announcement, alongside an updated COVID-19 plan, have made numerous scientists and doctors in the country more optimistic that the US can correct its chaotic approach under the Trump-Pence administration in tackling the pandemic that has caused more than 12 million Americans to be infected, while more than 256,000 have died.
The new presidency in the US has the potential to push a significant shift in global policy, including the return of US support for strategic international bodies such as the World Health Organization and international agreements, including on climate change. Moreover, the Biden-Harris administration can make the US a key player in the fight against COVID-19 and a global health leader again.
It was a good coincidence that the Biden-Harris triumph came as the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA73) started with a speech by WHO director-general Tedros Adhamon Ghebreyesus pleading for more sustainable WHO funding, the launch of a universal health and preparedness review and the need to “re-imagine” global leadership and “forge a new era of cooperation” reflecting the lessons learned from the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Additionally, the WHO pointed out that SARS-CoV-2 is not the only pathogen we are facing in 2020 as there are other major epidemics, such as yellow fever in Gabon and Togo, chikungunya in Chad or measles in Mexico. The WHO once again reminded us about the urgent need for a “one health”, "eco-health" or "planetary health" approach that encompasses the integration of the health of humans, animals, the environment and the planet we share to address the root causes of zoonotic pandemics we are facing now and we may face in the future.
Decades of experience show that, from smallpox, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and bird flu to Ebola epidemics, international collaboration in science, health, political and funding commitments play an essential role in facilitating major success. It has produced advances and breakthroughs we could not have seen if countries had gone it alone.
Therefore, global leadership, including the leading role of the US government under the Biden-Harris administration, as well as international and multilateral collaboration promise a better opportunity to overcome COVID-19. International partnership, solidarity and science-based policies at the global, regional and national level are the best modalities we have to tackle the pandemic.
-- The writer is a senior lecturer at the School of Public Health, Hasanuddin University, Makassar, and Eisenhower fellow (Global Program, 2019)