The coronavirus has wreaked havoc throughout the world. Industrialized economies with world-renowned health systems have struggled with hundreds of thousands of cases of COVID-19, tens of thousands of deaths, and significant economic disruption. But what has been, and what could be, the experience of extremely vulnerable populations who are already in precarious situations — those in fragile states throughout the world, in war zones such as Syria and Yemen, and in refugee camps such as the Rohingya in Bangladesh? How can unprepared and under-resourced health systems respond? How can the international community coordinate a humanitarian response to help attend to the health crisis, as well as the ensuing impacts on already frail communities facing challenging political, economic, and security situations?
In order to assess these questions, Asia Society Policy Institute President Kevin Rudd spoke last week with two experts — former U.K. Foreign Secretary and current International Rescue Committee President and CEO David Miliband and former U.N. Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator and now the University of London’s SOAS Director Valerie Amos.
One issue that both Miliband and Amos highlighted was declining American leadership in global institutions. They noted that the Trump administration’s announcement on Friday that the U.S. would withdraw from the World Health Organization has hampered these institutions’ ability to respond on the ground to crises like COVID-19.
“When you have a pandemic like this that is affecting countries in a very deep way, countries aren’t necessarily going to raise their hands and take on the leadership that is required,” said Amos. “There’s a vacuum there that’s very hard to fill.”