International Cooperation: The Principal COVID Casualty?

Article by: David S. Evangelista, President and Managing Director, Special Olympics Europe Eurasia and Kate Campana, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, The Access Challenge

Special Olympics Chairman Tim Shriver and Special Olympics Tanzania athlete Malaki lead the Special Olympics Tanzania delegation ahead of the World Games Abu Dhabi 2019.

Nothing has exposed the fragility of the current global system more than the current COVID crisis. It is in many ways an unprecedented frame rupture.

While the world’s population sits anxiously for a vaccine or treatment, the global community must protect itself from witnessing a catastrophic casualty: the casualty of international cooperation.

Fear, self- protection, social (and often emotional) isolation, and a growing distrust among nations and international institutions has become the new narrative. The globe has witnessed the indiscriminate effect that the coronavirus has had on all economies, systems and structures. The response has lacked uniformity. What appears to be simple protections like facemasks and public health measures have become partisan fault lines at a time when citizens of the world are looking for solidarity, and any degree of certainty.

Since the end of WWII, international cooperation has been perhaps the single ingredient that has provided billions of the world’s citizens with opportunity, visibility, and information. While imperfect, the creation of the United Nations provided a global platform for open dialogue (and dissent) that has saved countless lives, enriched countless more, and has brought about far more good than bad. The advent of bilateral and multilateral trade deals has helped job creation, wealth generation, and a connectivity among nations. Key regional market and geopolitical groups like Mercosur, ASEAN, and most notably the European Union (and its common currency) all speak to the way in which international cooperation breeds multilateral relations, and a future vision. This is not to detract from the clear gaps that globalization and international cooperation has shown, at times eroding social protection measures nationally, and often creating undesired industry impacts to grow global economies. With this said, one must look only to the significant advancements made under the UN-MDGs and continuing under the UN-SDGs to demonstrate the way in which international cooperation is the adhesive to improving- and often saving- lives at scale.

Special Olympics Lions Clubs International Opening Eyes screening as part of Special Olympics Healthy Athletes in Rwanda.

Former President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, warned of this fracture in a European Policy Center piece- titled “COVID19- A Turning Point for the EU?”, published at the very outset of the COVID crisis. He speaks to the way in which growing distrust among nations will potentially deepen the crisis. The casualty of international cooperation will plunge any economy and nation dependent upon connectivity into an abyss of uncertainty and greater isolation at a time when only collective solutions can see the world through.

Some of the world’s most marginalized populations serve as a guide. It has been through cooperation among nations that gender equity has taken center stage in global economic development. It has been through international investments that child mortality has significantly reduced- and the same applies to food security, support to migrants and refugees, education and more. Key areas of global health like universal access to care, whose urgency has exponentially grown with COVID’s devastating reach, will depend in large part on the ability for nations to collaborate, sharing learnings, create hybrid models, and most importantly, show collective resolve in their commitment to make health care accessible to all. Perhaps no other population can speak to the positive impact that international cooperation has had on their lives and their future more than individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Imagine a world where institutions, human warehouses of traumatic proportion, expand globally to strip individuals of their integrity, dignity and self — respect. Imagine a world where children born with an intellectual disability remain simply an economic and social burden, without any consideration to their uniqueness. Imagine a world where families do not have the choice to respect and nurture the lives of their children of all abilities, without risking the survival of the entire family unit.

Can the world, its economy and social fabric afford to see those most marginalized plunge into oblivion? Can the global and national security apparatus withstand the deep civil unrest that could take hold should the adhesive that binds nations together weaken to the point of collapse? Can the global community afford a deepening global health crisis without ensuring health access to all, especially those on the margins of their communities? Perhaps it is only through international cooperation that something as urgent as universal access to care can be made a reality.

Special Olympics Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger (SSIGM), Nyasha Derera, hosting the Special Olympics Global Inclusive Health Forum in Abu Dhabi in 2019.

All political and industry leaders will recognize sooner than later that the connectivity that has brought about such massive advancements to global peace, security and development is due in large part to the commitment of nations to work together, despite their differences. The survival of international cooperation may well represent the world’s survival through turbulent waters not seen in generations.

As COVID impacts and responses differ among nations, might international cooperation be COVID’s principal casualty? The cracks in the frame continue to expand, and the results of such a demise could spell drastically greater damage to a world already on the brink.

President & Managing Director, Special Olympics Europe Eurasia. Father. Husband.