William E. Cosgrove: Circling the wagons makes no sense in a global pandemic

FILE - In this May 20, 2020, file photo, cemetery workers in protective clothing bury a COVID-19 victim at the Vila Formosa cemetery in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Even amid a global pandemic, there’s no sign that corruption is slowing down in Latin America. In Brazil, which has the world's second-highest number of confirmed cases, police created a task force to investigate crimes tied to the pandemic. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

The House has passed its Phase 4 pandemic relief funding bill. The Senate will debate it next. My concern is not that the $3 trillion investment may not be enough to keep our health systems functioning and our economy afloat, but that this package ignores the rest of the world, despite the fact that we are in a global fight for survival.

The entire world, all of its peoples, and every economy, is simultaneously now under threat. Yet, this bill only looks inward, focuses its attention solely upon the United States. Perhaps this circling the wagons to protect “our own” made some sense when the adversary was another human, but it makes no sense when the adversary is a global virus.

This global contagion has shed light on just how interdependent we are on the world, and just how frail our health system and our economy are. Like a house of cards with each card gingerly leaning against the next, our health, our lives and our livelihoods are all intertwined and mutually dependent upon others, upon our neighbors and upon the far-flung peoples of our world.

Our multi-trillion-dollar health care system was brought to its knees by the lack of a 50-cent mask. Our celebrated “just-in-time” delivery processes and minimalist inventories have failed miserably; another card falling. A tiny mutation in a bat virus on the other side of the globe has resoundingly demonstrated that all humans everywhere are equally vulnerable.

The obvious lesson from our current crisis is that all humans on the planet are in this together. That every nation, every tribe, every community is under attack and that we need to defend everyone, if we are going to get through this. We can no longer pretend that we can just take care of our own, our own families, our own country. That will not work. We will continue to need international commerce, distant sources of raw materials, global producers and worldwide consumers. We will need the world to survive and to thrive, if we are to survive and thrive.

Yet, in that $3 trillion spending bill, there is not one cent allocated to investing in global health. Consider that because of global lockdowns and health system disruptions, our old infectious scourges are rebounding. Tuberculosis, which last year killed 1.5 million souls, will increase without medicines getting out to villages. Malaria and AIDS will accelerate.

Over 13.5 million children will miss immunizations and ancient adversaries like measles and polio will again surge, costing children their lives. Food shortages are calculated to double the number of people experiencing acute hunger to 265 million, with stunting and wasting in children and increased child deaths. And without global intervention this new virus will continue to circulate for years to come.

Now, more than ever before, it is clear that we who are able to help the world must help the world. I urge you to call your senators and beg them to allocate $12 billion of the relief fund to global health investments to shore up poor countries’ health systems, train health workers, deliver needed supplies and to send the message that we care about the peoples of the world.

While that seems like a lot of money, it is less than one half of one percent of the total relief bill.

We must invest in the survival and thriving of all the world’s peoples. We are all in this together.

William E. Cosgrove

William E. Cosgrove, M.D., Cottonwood Heights, is a pediatrician and a member of the Salt Lake County Board of Health.