20th April 2020
Prof Tolu Oni
Next Einstein Forum
Prof. Tolu Oni is a public health physician and urban epidemiologist, Clinical Senior Research Associate at the University of Cambridge, Honorary Associate Professor at the University of Cape Town
One thing is clear: we can’t avert a next pandemic with the same logic and systems that got us to this point. In addition to emergency responses to reduce transmission needed to end the pandemic, I have previously written about the need for emergency foresight in the midst of crises. This re-think of response as well as the re-imagination of a different future are important ingredients of action for societal reset.
The greatest threat to positive societal reset is not the challenges of the present but a stagnant mindset of impossibility; and our perceived limits of what is possible, a major stumbling block in attempting a societal reset, need to be confronted. To this end, I share some thoughts on 7 things we have long known to be important but for which efforts to rectify were considered unthinkable, unacceptable or impossible, until now.
- Health is political. The quote by Rudolf Virchow that Medicine is a social science and politics is nothing but medicine writ large has never been truer figuratively and literally. Politics plays a central role in how health is debated and enacted in a policy agenda; with politicking being largely partisan. And yet, the pandemic has seen a disruption in traditional party lines, with ideas akin to universal basic income (conventionally a left-leaning policy) proposed by a right-wing US government as part of an economic stimulus package COVID response. I can’t help but wonder what other health decisions can cross political party lines.
- Public service and care work are the backbone of society: Globally, the care work and public service required to look after the most vulnerable and to keep society running is systematically undervalued. Teachers are paid little, pay and work conditions for carers abysmal, and supermarket cashiers not previously considered key by any home affairs guidelines. The pandemic has revealed what we inherently know, that these key workers are vital to the functioning of any society, but persistently ignored until now. A trend across the world has evolved with an evening applause for key workers across sectors on the frontline of the pandemic. Beyond applause, we would do well to better align the value we place on these keyworkers to better reflect their invaluable role in society and re-examine the definitions of core societal function and critical work(ers).