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OP-ED: Political leadership in the time of a pandemic

  • Published at 01:23 am December 23rd, 2020
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Leadership matters in fighting a pandemic BIGSTOCK

What leaders do now will be subject to scrutiny, to their graves and beyond

By now my readers of the Surgeon’s Note, probably, are well aware of my intense partiality toward Plato, the revered philosopher of the ancient times, and though 24 centuries have elapsed since his time -- his philosophical deductions on illness, healing, and humanity still hold good to contemporary medicine.

I quote from one of his Dialogs: “Socrates: For if a man, my dear Alcibiades, is at liberty to do what he pleases, but is lacking in mind, what is the probable result to him personally, or to the state as well? For instance, if he is sick and at liberty to do what he pleases, without a medical mind, but with a despot’s power, which prevents anyone from even reproving him, what will the result be?”

Donald Trump, the out-going president of the United States, did not have an official psychiatric assessment during his tenure, at least not one that is available in the public domain, but there have been numerous occasions when the United States commander-in-chief’s mental state has been questioned.

In early October, after he appeared in a motorcade whilst infected with coronavirus, many, including health professionals, condemned his action, speculated on the soundness of his mind, and raised the issue of the president’s medical requirement for a psychiatric assessment. The attending physician Dr James Phillips called on all those involved in Trump’s drive-past to quarantine, which raised the possibility of being infected by the president, and exposed to the possibility of death.

Dr Phillips believed that this reckless act of the sitting president of the US was nothing short of insanity. President Trump’s reckless withdrawal from the World Health Organization, depriving the international community of the leadership for coordinating the operational strategy of the agency’s member states in the humanity’s battle to fight off Covid-pandemic, was universally frowned upon.

In adroit contrast, the President-elect Joe Biden announced last week that Rochelle Walensky is to be his choice to lead the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, the illustrious lead organization of the US, in the quest, preventing and combating any biological threat to its citizens, that had much deliberately been left in tatters by the outgoing US administration. This move by the president-elect has unanimously been acknowledged, and endorsed by the medical fraternity in the US who trust in her scientific and clinical expertise as well as her talent to effectively communicate -- a pre-requisite in restoring the very credibility of the US leading public health agency.

She only recently examined and advocated the essential determinant of a successful Covid-19 vaccination campaign that not only emphasizes on the eficacy, but on manufacturing capacity, infrastructure capability for distribution, preservation, implementation, coverage, and publicity, much similar to the WHO campaign against smallpox led by DA Henderson. WHO’s role in the eradication of smallpox is and will ever remain undisputed. A major obstacle to the success of universal political commitment in the fight against SARS-CoV2 virus has been the blatant undermining of the role played by the WHO.

WHO is the fundamental component of the UN system of specialized agencies performing United Nations humanitarian commitments. The threat and the deliberate ploy to manipulate and hinder the functions of WHO in establishing, monitoring, and enforcing international norms and standards in the present viral pandemic by the richest economy in the world, and ultimately withdrawal of the US from the agency has given no respite in the agency’s relentless effort in controlling the pandemic.

So it would be vital for Biden’s administration to strengthen the international image of WHO that has been severely tarnished by the out-going US administration, provide increased investment sufficient to revitalize the core management body and WHO’s regional offices in confidently coordinating the operational response to the pandemic by the member states, to set achievable targets in exterminating community transmission of the virus, ensure better management of Covid infection through the development of trained staff, and allocation of assigned resources both human and financial, with investment in logistics support and towards a pragmatic, achievable operational strategy.

The Republic of Plato, with the exception of The Law, is the longest and the greatest of his works. According to Plato, within the conceptual shell of democracy lies the ghost of the tyrant, the head of the hydra. Tyranny springs from the excess of democracy as democracy buds out from the excess of oligarchy. Democracy, a democrat believes, through the virtuosity of freedom, is the sweetest and the greatest natural good on Earth, providing appreciativeness of the very essence of human life. 

Democracy initially confers equal footings to people -- equality and fraternity for all is the approved principle, serf, bourgeoisie and the liege lord without exception, but eventually the insatiable desire for freedom and liberty and the consequent neglect of any other encourages disorders, welcoming the path for tyranny.

All over the world, political leadership has been awarded natural freedom and liberty in abundance by the generosity of the people to successfully tackle any situation consequent to the pandemic. However, their overall leadership provided to their people, irrespective of their state’s economic status, be high, middle, or low income and their capacity to lead their own nation at such a vital juncture as the coronavirus pandemic, when the lives of their citizens have been threatened as never before, would no doubt be subject to scrutiny eventually and the legacy of their act, cowardice or spartan valour, they would have to carry to their graves and beyond.

Dr Raqibul Mohammad Anwar is Specialist Surgeon, Global Health Policy and Planning Expert, and Retired Colonel, Royal Army Medical Corps, UK Armed Forces.