Biosafety challenge calls for greater cooperation
The world is experiencing a special situation due to outbreak of novel coronavirus. The virus has mostly affected China and its people, with individuals and businesses adversely influenced. However, the people are strong enough to fight and win the battle against the virus. The Chinese government responded swiftly and with great resolve to the public health emergency and mobilizing all its resources to overcome the critical situation in Hubei province where the outbreak has been the most severe. Iran, my country, has been also affected the novel coronavirus and unfortunately 54 people have died by Sunday and many more have been infected.
This is not the first biological threat to humans and will not be the last. There have been several epidemics since the beginning of 21st century, although the West has mostly has managed to avoid the worst, but it does not mean that an epidemic will never seriously trouble those parts of the world. Biological threats are every country's problem, not only those that are most badly challenged by the emergence of a serious public health threat.
In the case of the novel coronavirus, which is clearly a serious threat to people around the world considering how highly contagious it is, I think that there has been insufficient international coordination, and countries and airlines individually decided how to manage their relationships with China, which have obviously been ineffective. There has also been a lack of public awareness campaigns informing people of what they can do to minimize the risks of transmission. And concerted efforts by countries to counter the spread of the virus have been too little, too late.
However, I believe we can turn the current threat into opportunity by training and educating people to adopt higher health standards, which contribute to the prevention of an outbreak. The role of NGOs is crucial in making people more aware of the importance of simple hygiene measures. On the national level, countries have to collectively design and individually implement more robust healthcare systems. People have to be able to trust their countries' health systems in critical circumstances. On the international level, countries need to enhance their cooperation on health issues. Stronger public health ties among countries will facilitate collaboration in times of crisis. I think a new international coordination mechanism to specifically manage biological risks should be considered.
China and the world will definitely win the battle against the novel coronavirus. All people with any kind of humanity are supporting the people who are affected by the virus in any way. As Persian poet Sa'adi (1210-1291) wrote:
"The sons of Adam are limbs of each other, having been created of one essence. When the calamity of time affects one limb, the other limbs cannot remain at rest."
We all have to rethink our roles in human society so we are better prepared for the future public health challenges that are sure to emerge.
The author is Mostafa Mohammadi, visiting lecturer of management in Shahid Beheshti University of Iran, and Head of Youth Committee, Iran-China Friendship Association