By David Gallup
Disease knows no borders.
In an ungoverned world, Ebola and other viruses can potentially wipe out a large part of the human species. National governments cannot handle an epidemic, let alone a pandemic, because they take a parochial, short-term view of events outside their claimed frontiers. Countries respond to crises elsewhere in the world only when it is in their local interest, applying a “national security” or “public order” approach rather than what is in the best interest of humanity.
Many nation-states do not have the scientific or economic capacity to control the spread of disease within their borders. They cannot handle health crises on their own.
The World Health Organization has been successful in controlling and eradicating some diseases such as polio. United Nations member-states, however, consistently prevent this UN agency and other health organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control, from intervening in the affairs of each country through underfunding, understaffing, and domestic control over health matters. A Washington Post front page article confirms that there has been “no coordinated global response” to the Ebola crisis (Oct. 5, A9). A global government approach provides the needed remedy to heal the divisions that prevent us from having an effective global public health system.
The division and discrimination that national governments perpetuate lead to violations of the right to adequate health care. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) affirms, “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and his family, including, food, clothing, housing and medical care…” The ability to exercise the right to health care, according to the UDHR, is dependent upon whether a society provides sufficient economic conditions and social services to the population. People living in poverty with minimal education and limited medical resources cannot exercise this right.
The nationalistic approach to health care also dramatically impacts the right to travel (Article 13 of the UDHR). People living in countries where the disease is out of control can be discriminated against and refused travel visas even if they do not live near the outbreak and have had no contact with the infected. Those who have the virus might need to leave their country to get proper medical care, but other countries may refuse to let them in. Also, other countries often refuse to provide technical and financial assistance to the disease-ravaged country – assistance that could help those infected locally in the short term, and could safeguard everyone globally in the long term.
People need to receive help no matter where they live. Helping all humans, regardless of their nationality, is the only way to protect humanity as a whole and each of us individually.
Nationalism is a disease run rampant. It prevents us from achieving a sustainable, healthy and peaceful world. Albert Einstein said, “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”
If we humans cannot devise a system to govern our interactions, whether in global health or politics, then we are doomed to destroy each other and the earth. It is a matter of priorities. When we fund the next stealth bomber, arm insurgents, prepare for and wage wars, no funding remains to build hospitals and to strengthen the economic, social and health infrastructure.
Disease is universal.
Science is universal.
Rights are universal.
Helping our fellow humans throughout the world is not universal – but it should be.