Human rights and whole of a society approach needs to be central to the response.
Humanity is facing an unprecedented crisis. We are fighting a common and invisible enemy: the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19), that has left more than three million people infected and about 208 000 of them dead (as of Monday, this week).
Health systems, including some of the strongest in the world, have been left overwhelmed and struggling to deal with the pandemic. Beyond the health impact, Covid-19 is also ripping communities and societies; and crushing economies, jeopardising people’s livelihoods and wellbeing. All this devastation in less than five months, yet the battle is far from being won. Many experts are now speaking about a potential second wave in the cases in countries that are slowly overcoming the impact of Covid-9.
Since Africa’s first Covid-19 case was recorded in Egypt on February 14, the cases on the continent have been rising quickly to over 20 000 and close to 900 deaths. The Sadc region accounts for 30 percent of Africa’s cases. Africa’s curve of infection is not peaking as fast as in other continents, at least for now. However, no time should be lost in terms of preparing the systems and the societies for what could become the greatest challenge of this century.
Covid- 19’s ferocity demands nothing less than a human rights and a whole of society approach, a business unusual approach. The virus does not discriminate by race, colour, gender, religion or any other status and so discrimination must have no place in any response. If one person is excluded, the virus has an opportunity to persist. We cannot leave any one behind – we must seek special measures and protection for particular groups most at risk or disproportionally protected.
The United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres has been advocating for a three-pronged approach: i) to take decisive action to suppress the virus and alleviate suffering; ii) tackling the devastating socioeconomic consequences, with a focus on the most vulnerable people; and (iii) promoting better recovery.
Just like the rest of the world, Malawi is in a Covid-19 induced defining moment in human history. Since the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in Malawi on 2nd April, the country is now seeing the numbers rising quickly. The UN has been working with the Government of Malawi, development partners, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and many other key actors in the society to encourage preparedness, strengthen the ability of national institutions to respond to the Covid-19 crisis and ensure that no one is left behind. The assistance has also aimed to improve coordination and coherence in the response. The National Covid-19 Preparedness and Response Plan is an important step in this direction.
We are all in this together. To effectively combat the pandemic, we all need to be part of the response. Governments and others in leadership positionsneed to be open, transparent, responsive and accountable to the people they are seeking to protect. Information should not just flow from the capital to local communities. It is essential that the local level is part of the decision making and that feedback mechanisms are in place to bring information back to decision makers.
We must constantly ask ourselves the questions: Are the measures actually working or are adjustments required? Are the measures bringing unintended consequences that need to be prevented or addressed? The free flow of timely, accurate, simultaneous and factual information is essential. A free press, vibrant civil society organisations and an active Malawi Human Rights Commission are vital components of the pandemic’s response. Securing compliance depends on transparency and participation.
To win the Covid-19 fight, principles of peace, solidarity, rule of law, human rights and human dignity should remain part of our guiding compass.