Minju Jung By: Minju Jung
Doctoral Researcher in Politics and International Relations
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15 May 2020 : Every country should take part in the global efforts to overcome the pandemic

The one thing this pandemic has taught us is the value and the importance of international cooperation. Since COVID-19 has hit the world, states have seemed to have their own way in containing the virus and protecting their citizens. Amid states’ infdependent movements, there are two global efforts for the development of vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.

The European Commission (EC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have launched initiatives, which aim to raise funds for the collaborative development of diagnostics, treatments and vaccines against the virus. These initiatives are important because the pandemic may not be over until we develop the vaccine.

On May 4, the EC and a few countries co-chaired the Coronavirus Global Response International Pledging Conference. As of May 14, the initiative has raised €7.4 billion (£6.5 billion). This amount was raised by 27 EU member states, 14 non-EU states, and 5 UN and philanthropic bodies and research institutes. This fundraising will continue until the end of May.

The WHO has been fundraising too. As of May 13, 34 states and 17 other donors, which included international organisations and public and private philanthropic bodies, have taken part in the initiative. The organisation has raised US $765 million (pledges: US$186 million, received: US$ 579 million) so far.

Among these states, 26 states have donated to both fundraising initiatives. Therefore, 49 states in total have donated to the global initiative to develop vaccines and treatments for COVID-19 (of course, I understand that there would be other fundraising initiatives for the similar purpose to the that of the WHO and the EC).

While following which country donated and how much money, I found that most donations came from the richest countries in the world. Very few Asian, African and Middle Eastern countries have taken part in the fundraising. Some countries donate funds, but the amount of their donation does not look ‘ethical’ because they have the capacity to donate more. These phenomena were not surprising but disappointing. 

This has made me think about the ethics behind a donation to produce global public goods.

International cooperation between a variety of stakeholders has been regarded as a key factor to address global problems, such as poverty, global health, and climate change. However, in many cases, it has been, arguably but broadly, accepted that rich, highly industrialised states should take more responsibilities than the poorer, less industrialised countries. In particular, it has been believed that the G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States), the largest economies in the world, should lead international responses to global problems (sometimes the G20 to deal with economic issues). We call them arguably ‘world leaders’. They organise and implement interventions in conflict zones, provide financial resources to address global poverty, or lead an international treaty to address climate change. Their roles in responding to global problems have been justified by the fact that these highly industrialised countries have the capability to address global concerns if they have a will to do so.

Yes, the world's expectation from the richest countries seems to be fair. The G7 states represent 40 percent of global GDP (G20 states account for 80% of global GDP). Their economic profits, in many ways, are based on the exploitation of the poorest (and the poorer) countries. They play a major role in causing the current climate changes and emitting greenhouse gases. These economically developed countries have a strong social system and technologies to ensure the well-being of their own people, in comparison to the poorer countries. Whereas, many poorer countries suffer from domestic issues such as poverty, poor public health, etc.

I agree with the thought that the richest countries in the world should contribute significantly more than the poorer countries to global efforts to respond to global problems. However, I believe that all the countries should take responsibility and contribute as members of the international community.

The less industrialised states seem to have been, to a large extent, exempted from contributing to these global efforts, because they are overwhelmed by their domestic problems and cannot afford to donate. Moreover, these poorer and non-G7 states seem to prefer to remain as an observer or a recipient of the public goods produced by international cooperation. The absence of many of the poorer states and the passive attitudes of non-G7 states in the current WHO and EC fundraisings show how they pass the buck to the richest states in responding to global problems. 

Interestingly, it seems that no one ‘gave’ them these exemptions. The lack or absence of financial contribution from the poorer states is well-excused, however, it does not mean that they are exempted from duty that they should take as a member of the international community. There are countries in Asia, Africa and South America, which are less industrialised but not the poorest countries in the world. They should contribute to global efforts as much as they can.

Besides, donation figures from certain countries are very disappointing. I view South Korea’s attitude in the current global fundraising is not ethically appropriate. This country has been so far less affected by the virus and has made relative success in minimizing the impact of the pandemic, compared to the other countries. However, the amount of the donation by South Korea to the WHO and the EC fundraising is much less than the G7 states. South Korea should remember how many countries had helped them in the Korean War and also, until it could develop its economy. 

This pandemic is a global issue. As of May 13, more than 4.2 million have contracted the virus in at least 187 countries and territories, and at least 291,000 have died. The virus has not discriminated between countries. It seems to have hit particularly the richest countries in the global North more harshly. In the UK, the US, Spain and Italy, many people have died, many have been furloughed, their economy has shrunk, and the governments are facing a massive expenditure to help people’s economic loss.

The development of vaccines seems to be the last resort to escape from the virus. Although the WHO warns that COVID-19 may not disappear even if we have a vaccine (like measles), the vaccine and treatments may make a big difference and save lives. It has been heard that some poorer states have sent masks and PPEs, and also shared their response tactics with the richer and harshly affected countries. Such a co-operation can save lives and mitigate the situation, but is not enough to stop the deaths from the virus. We should also raise money to develop vaccines and treatments for the virus.

Apart from the development of vaccines, we need massive money to research COVID-19, to develop treatments, and most importantly to make sure that everyone in the world can access the vaccines and the treatments. Equal and affordable availability of the vaccines and treatments must be a very important issue for the poorer countries, which neither have the capacity to develop the vaccine nor are they capable of buying the vaccines at a very high price. To ensure that COVID-19 vaccines are available, accessible and affordable to all, we need extra money, and every state should take responsibilities and contribute to the fundraising.

Every country should take part in the international efforts, to develop the vaccines and treatments and to make sure that they are equally and affordably accessible to all. States should contribute to the fundraising regardless of the size of the economy. Their indifference and passive attitudes in organising global efforts may exclude them from the decisions of the development and distribution of the vaccines. Let’s not give the richer states an opportunity to make the pandemic a political game.

It is time for non-G7 states to take responsibilities in this pandemic along with the richest states in the world and to show solidarity and influence as an international partner.

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