This week, or next, the world will set a grim milestone that was once unthinkable: across the globe, we mark 5,000,000 deaths due to Covid 19. Five Million. It is hard to wrap our heads around a number so large. The US imagination tends to end at our shores, but this milestone is so great that there will undoubtedly be much publicity about it in the days and weeks to come. All kinds of comparisons will be made.
Five million deaths is the equivalence of wiping out the entire population of Nashville, Detroit, Denver, San Francisco, Boston and Columbus, Ohio combined. Or, looked at another way, five million represents everyone who lives in the vast territory of North and South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.
Remember at the beginning of the pandemic, how we compared deaths to those killed on 9/11? Globally, the pandemic has taken almost 1,700 times the number of casualties as that horrible day—1,700 times! News reports have been quick to draw the comparisons with various wars. But five million deaths is three and a half times as many as all US combat deaths from all wars fought in the history of this country—a total amassed over a period of 59 years, while pandemic deaths around the world have all happened in less than two years.
And these deaths, like all deaths, do not include the agony and suffering of loved ones—intensified during the pandemic because of quarantine and isolation prompted by the infectious nature of the virus. So many have tragically been forced to die alone. We have become so inured to the drumbeat of suffering in the daily headlines that it is easy to lose sight of the big picture.
This is bleak news. There is no getting around it. We must see this virus through a global lens if we are to truly understand the interrelated nature of reality in the 21st century. The virus knows no borders. What occurs in other countries impacts us here at home.
But in the midst of these gloomy statistics, there is a shred of truly good news. As NPR reports, “U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. said it will license drugmakers worldwide to produce its potentially lifesaving antiviral pill for treatment of COVID-19 in adults. The drug, known as molnupiravir, has shown promise in treating the disease, and the agreement to license its production could help millions of people in the developing world gain access to it.”
A United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool said that it “had reached an agreement with Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics. Under the pact, the U.S. drugmakers will allow MPP to license the manufacture of molnupiravir to qualified pharmaceutical companies across the globe.”
This drug is the first Covid-19 treatment in pill form without the need for laboratories, injections or cold storage as has been the case with the vaccines, thereby making the treatment especially valuable in poor and rural countries around the globe. Widespread distribution of molnupiravir could cut hospitalizations and deaths from Covid-19 by half.
Merck has led the way here and the rest of us should follow suit. It is time drop our nationalistic eye shades and consider how a US-led public/private partnership can offer hope to heal the world, dramatically mitigating the impact of Covid-19 in those places across the globe that can least afford it. We must call on our lawmakers to stop bickering over President Biden’s agenda, pass the two infrastructure bills stalled in Congress and pivot to an all-hands-on-deck approach to assisting other countries in producing and distributing this new drug.
The virus has wrought so much death and suffering around the world, and the recent death of Colin Powell reclaim us that the pandemic is very much still with us and no one is immune to its reach. We cannot reverse the five million souls we have already lost to this illness. But we can challenge our legislators and one another to do all in our power to harness the potential in this new drug and release the hope it embodies to people all across the planet.