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.

One thought on “Five Million

  1. The inadequate and often woeful global preparedness and response to a 21st century pandemic is less a surprise than it is a reminder of the well-worn adage ‘we reap what we sow.’

    And what has been sown of late upon the national and global landscape? Laying aside for a moment the always unstable additives of power and corruption, let us look at the state of our fields:

    – The vaccine rollout around the globe has been rife with inequality. According to April 2021 research by the Agence France-Presse, high-income nations — such as the United States and members of the European Union — have been getting much more than their fair share of vaccine doses. Despite making up only 16 percent of the global population, people in high-income nations have gotten 47 percent of all vaccine doses. That is in contrast to people in lower-income nations, who have gotten just 0.2 percent of all vaccine doses, despite making up 9 percent of the world’s population.

    – Around the world, 690 million people regularly go to bed hungry, according to a 2020 report from the United Nations food agencies.

    – While global poverty has been on a downward trend for decades and despite massive pandemic-related initiatives and expenditures, in 2021 nearly 10 percent of the world survives on less than $1.90 a day.

    – According to the 2019 Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report, the world’s richest 1 percent, those with more than $1 million, own 43.4 percent of the world’s wealth.

    – Since 1980, the World Inequality Report data shows that the share of national income going to the richest 1 percent has increased rapidly in North America (defined here as the United States and Canada), China, India, and Russia.

    – The United States is home to more than twice as many adults with at least $50 million in assets as the next five nations with the most super rich combined.

    – Changes in tax policies that benefit the wealthy and large corporations have been a key driver of America’s skyrocketing inequality. While a relative few at the top have gained enormous economic and political clout, the squeeze on public revenue has undercut much-needed public investments and services that benefit ordinary Americans. Reversing that trajectory will require an overhaul of our tax code to ensure everyone pays their fair share. Why do the rich pay such a small share of total U.S. taxes, relative to their great wealth? Beyond their ability to hide their money from the IRS, the rich benefit from the tax code’s preferential treatment of income from investments.

    – Systemic racism in the U.S. and around the globe has contributed to the persistence of race-based gaps in household wealth, food and health security, educational opportunities, employment, etc.

    – The United States, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, has 46 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns, according to a 2018 report by the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey. It ranks number one in firearms per capita. The United States also has the highest homicide-by-firearm rate of the world’s most-developed nations.

    – Another generation of women will have to wait for gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021. As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt, closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.

    – People around the world face violence and inequality — and sometimes torture, even execution — because of who they love, how they look, or who they are.

    – The number of people fleeing wars, violence, persecution, and human rights violations, rose last year to nearly 82.4 million people, a further four percent increase on top of the already record-high of 79.5 million, recorded at the end of 2019. more than one percent of the world’s population — or 1 in 95 people — is now forcibly displaced. This compares with 1 in 159 in 2010.

    – The global temperature for September 2021 was the fifth highest for the month of September in the 142-year NOAA record, which dates back to 1880. The year-to-date (January-September) global surface temperature was the sixth highest on record. According to NCEI’s Global Annual Temperature Rankings Outlook, it is virtually certain (>99.0 percent) that the year 2021 will rank among the 10 warmest years on record.

    If little else the list above is a primer for how NOT to plant our fields.

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