The Global COVID-19 Crisis: Why Has It Been So Severe?

By Staff Writer Busola Awobode

bawobode@umassd.edu

 On September 30, 2021, the UMass Dartmouth Department of Political Science, the UMass Political Science Association, and the UMass Dartmouth Office of Faculty Development hosted a panel titled “The Global COVID-19 Crisis: Causes, Consequences, and Policies on Campus.” The panel was part of the “Quest for Peace and Justice: An International Conference on the Decolonization Process of Former UN Trusteeship Territories in Africa”. The panel focused on fostering a conversation across disciplines on the current COVID-19 to answer the question “why has it been so severe?” in an effort to “develop long-term strategies for potential future global public health crises”. 

Given the global and national responses to the pandemic over the last two years it is clear that the world and its leaders were severely unprepared for a catastrophe of that magnitude. According to Political Science Department’s Professor Kazumori the pandemic exposed systemic vulnerabilities in sectors such as healthcare, and economics and demonstrated accessibility and interdependence issues that plagued many of our societies. 

Panelists Ms. Sarah Craven, UNFPA Director, United Nations Population Fund, Washington Office, Dr Poonam Dhavan, Senior Migration Health Policy Advisor, International Organization for Migration, and Mr. Paolo Galli, UNDP Washington Senior Partnerships Advisor spoke to these issues from an international perspective touching on issues relating to immigrants, women, and children and those below the poverty line. While the ways in which the pandemic affected these groups of people varied, one common thread was that COVID-19 exacerbated issues that those in these sectors were already dealing with, putting them at higher risk during the pandemic. 

Immigrants who already had limited access to healthcare suffered an even steeper decline in health and had trouble accessing healthcare facilities such as vaccines. Additionally, overflow of hospitals meant that prenatal, neonatal, and post-natal services were reduced and/or streamlined increasing the vulnerability of pregnant women and children not just to the virus but to a host of other issues as well. And these issues seemed to worsen in less developed areas. Dr Matthew Colidiron of Médicins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders), discussed the realities of lower income countries. Countries such as Yemen and Lebanon had less infrastructure and facilities to cope with the pandemic and deal with infection and death rates. Likewise, when the vaccine roll-out began, they lacked access to enough vaccines and thus had very low rates of vaccination. 

Bringing it closer home, Mr. Damon Chaplin, Director of the New City of New Bedford Public Health and SouthCoast Health Chief Clinical Officer, Dr Dani Hackner discussed the effects of the pandemic at a local level. When asked to describe the pandemic in one word, Chaplin simply said “overwhelming”. As the pandemic progressed it became apparent that the current structure of New Bedford’s health sector could not withstand epidemics or a pandemic.

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