Fighting covid-19: International cooperation is needed

In October 1957, epidemics of smallpox and cholera began in East Bengal. By October 1958, 1500 people were dying each week due to the epidemics. In the first six months of 1958; 44,736 cases were recorded due to smallpox which resulted in 20,444 deaths (Cockburn 1960:26). On the contrary, there were 10,438 cholera cases which caused 6684 deaths. East Pakistan’s public health sector was facing acute shortage of money, doctors, and medical equipment due to the long-standing exploitation (economic, political, administrative etc.) of West Pakistan. It is worthy to note that in April 1958, while East Pakistan was facing severe challenges to face these epidemics, regional and international cooperation was noticeable. Twenty-one nations, the World Health Organization (WHO), and several voluntary agencies sent East Pakistan a total of 8,243,000 cc. of dry vaccine and 18,284,025 cc. of lymph vaccine for smallpox, and 2,475,600 cc. of vaccine for cholera. Five international teams came forward to give epidemiological assistance including a team of 20 members from Afghanistan.

The above example shows the importance of regional and international cooperation to face epidemic challenges in the 1960s. But unfortunately, coming in 2020, blame game, politics of denial, bypassing the role of WHO, absence of concrete regional and international cooperation are evident in addressing the covid-19 crisis. Covid-19 has shown the world that even the most powerful countries in the world become helpless to the diseases and whose solution requires cooperation among nations. The countries of the world have experienced lockdown, curfews to contain the spread of covid-19. Thus, the implications of covid-19 have been multidimensional- factories have been shut down, educational institutions around the world have been closed, borders have been closed, exports and imports have been badly affected globally. More specifically, one needs to consider the following points on the question of why cooperation at global level needs to be promoted to face the covid-19 crisis.

First, coronavirus crisis which started in December 2019 in China has already resulted in more than 1, 50,000 deaths and more than two million infected as of April 18, 2020 around the world. The number of infected and deaths is growing day by day. When the only earning member of the family dies, the family becomes paralysed. Covid-19 is making millions of orphans globally. Additionally, the loss of critical resource of the states including the health care professionals, security personnel, government and non-government officials has serious negative implications in the broader societal security, socio-economic developments of the states. This severe global problem requires global cooperation at medical, scientific, political, economic, and global governance level.

Second, one needs to look at the impact of covid-19 on economy, employment, and its linkage with the rise of poverty. The headline, titled ‘Singapore’s empty airport highlights impact of coronavirus on Asia’ at Financial Times underscores the impacts of diseases on the economy at the local, national, regional, and global scale (Mitchell 2020). The World Bank predicts that covid-19 will have severe negative implications for the world economy. In the case of South Asian economy, it forecasts that the regional growth will fall to a range between 1.8 and 2.8 percent in 2020 due to covid-19 crisis. There is strong possibility of world recession due to covid-19. This will increase extreme poverty which will ultimately impact broader human security of the people in the world.

Third, covid-19 can also be a potential source of violence and conflict among groups and people and states. In fact, it poses a serious human security threat. The combined effects have the potential to further weaken the state’s capacity to provide basic services and public goods. In one hand, the socio-economic development of many counties in the world is not satisfactory. On the other hand, there are growing income inequalities. Thus, the vast majority of the population becomes severely affected due to the impacts of covid-19. Millions of people have already lost their livelihoods globally who work mostly in informal sectors due to the week-long lockdown arising from reducing covid-19 spread. As a result, when a vast section of people in the society will fail to meet their basic necessities due to the loss of their source of income, it has the possibility to increase violence, crimes and conflicts. It is also shown that poor and hungry people have looted government reliefs in Jamalpur, Bangladesh. People have also committed suicides due to extreme poverty in the lockdown period arising from covid-19. For instance, a mother who failed to give food to her five children during the lockdown period attempted to commit suicide in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh (Alamgir 2020). The long lockdown period will be, the more people will suffer from acute hunger, and depression.

Fourth, there are also mental health ramifications of covid-19. Confining within a small space for weeks due to lockdown impacts the mental health everyone. Pragya Lodha, a clinical psychologist claims that lockdown crisis in India due to covid-19 has heightened tensions and severe anxieties among public (Neurekar 2020). The picture is same in the case of Bangladesh. Deaths from covid-19 have shown that the families of the victims become socially boycotted. It create mental disorders of many in the affected families. In addition, during the lockdown, social isolation, and quarantine, psychological well-being become affected badly. This increases domestic violence. According to the WHO (2020), domestic violence has increased globally since the covid-19 outbreak began.

Thus, one can argue that there are many reasons to promote international cooperation to fight against covid-19 crisis. In fact, covid-19 has shown that there is no military solution to pathogens. There is no alternative to invest generously on health and international cooperation. In fact, WHO needs to be sufficiently funded and strengthened. Rivalry between or among states will not bring benefits to anyone in the case of facing epidemics. Consequently, instead of spreading propaganda, misinformation, the states of the world needs to come forward to promote cooperation at different dimensions to face the covid-19 crisis and prioritizing public health at the global level.

Shariful Islam
Shariful Islam
Md. Shariful Islam is an assistant professor in International Relations at the University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh. Currently, he is on study leave and pursuing Ph.D. in International Relations at South Asian University, New Delhi. Email: shariful_ruir[at]