The pandemic and subsequent global lockdowns interrupted life as we knew it. Governments and societies with the means attempted to ease that interruption with stimulus packages, moratoriums on evictions, and other unprecedented measures to ward off economic meltdowns. The long-term success of these steps has yet to be proven, but for the moment, many of us can recline into a false sense of belief that normality is just around the corner.
The world has changed, and the global system has not yet regained its footing to confront a growing list of emerging catastrophes. As long as these emergencies increase, the evidence that our constant state of crisis is far from over is becoming irrefutable. Normality is farther and farther away.
The singular focus on the coronavirus pandemic has rendered other fronts of global healthcare vulnerable. While many in the developed world refuse COVID19 vaccines, they are either ignorant or overlook the fact that since the dawn of civilization, the greatest killer of mankind was disease. Conquering and eradicating many of these diseases is a very recent phenomenon, among the most remarkable human achievements of the post-World War II era. Those achievements are now slipping away.
In July, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that 140 million measles vaccines were missed in 2021, making populations, specifically children, in the developing world terribly vulnerable. Measles is the most infectious of the preventable diseases in the world today. Its prevention is dependent upon vaccine programs upended since the start of the pandemic. Disruptions in the vaccine programs in some war-torn regions already created unexpected outbreaks prior to the pandemic. In 2019 the world saw its highest number of measles infection rates in 23 years, resulting in 208,000 deaths worldwide.
“Soon, Covid-19 will not be the only health crisis demanding countries’ attention.” Dr. Carissa F. Etienne
Global polio and yellow fever vaccines initiatives have also been missed. In all, 228 million people, primarily children, are at risk of diseases that were preventable before the pandemic started. As COVID19 has battered Bangladesh in recent weeks, a parallel crisis is emerging with new Dengue Fever outbreaks. The country saw a 600% jump from June to July in total confirmed Dengue Fever cases. The outbreak occurring today in Bangladesh is from the strain known as DEN-3, which increases mortality risk beyond other strains of the disease.
In the US, an unusual summer spike in Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) has converged with a rising number of child hospitalizations with the Delta strain of the coronavirus. Doctors are increasingly concerned that the two outbreaks together will lead to an exhaustion of hospital beds in some cities.
These are a sampling of some of the fractures in the global health system that are breaking through even while the whole world remains focused on healthcare. The situation is worse on other fronts that political leaders and institutions could subordinate to lower-tiered priorities before the pandemic but now risk stretching beyond containment.
In recent weeks I described the growing food and water crises. Water protests have broken out in one of the wealthiest oil reserve cities of Iran, where police have fired and killed protesters. The number of people experiencing famine-like conditions globally has multiplied by six times in the last year. The number of people falling into the most acute phase of the famine across Ethiopia, Madagascar, South Sudan, and Yemen grew by more than half a million people in the last year.
It is no surprise how in the light of these growing interruptions to what was previously understood as basic human living standards, the world is experiencing an upsurge of protest and authoritarianism. On one side of the social contract, citizens are frightened and desperate for their way of life. On the other side, we find governments increasingly insecure about losing their grip on power in the face of mounting chaos.
Large protests movements worldwide increased by 2.5 times between 2011 and 2019 before the lockdown forced a withdrawal of large crowds from the streets. That reprieve has ended.
The Institute for Economics and Peace rose by 10% in 2020, with 5,000 instances of pandemic-related violence in 158 countries. South Africa, Cuba, Thailand, Peru, France, and more have all seen considerable outbursts in protests in recent weeks. These protests are often directly related to the pandemic but always despite the pandemic.
As normality moves further and further away, a dreadful new normal appears to be establishing itself in the globe. It is a new normal of overstretched governments and fed-up populations. Exhausting that dynamic, are accelerating crises that strike at the very foundations of human society that we took for granted until now.