COVID-19: Science and global health governance under attack

28 April 2020

Recent developments in the US and SA highlight that misguided ideology, partisan information flows, politics, and pseudoscience  pose a critical threat to science and undermines global health governance.  

In the US, President Donald Trump, has touted an antimalarial drug as an effective treatment against COVID-19 without sufficient corroborative scientific evidence, and against the advice of senior scientists. With the US now leading the world on COVID-19 incidence and mortality, Trump has sought to blame the WHO for this parlous state of affairs.  

On 14 April 2020, Trump announced that he was halting funding to the WHO while a review was conducted of the WHO’s ‘role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of coronavirus’. Trump’s decision to scapegoat the WHO in an attempt to distract attention away from his administration's domestic failings, is amoral and constitutes an assault on global health governance, endangers public health, and is akin to committing ‘a crime against humanity’. 

Meanwhile, in South Africa, soon after the country’s lockdown was announced, an obscure local NGO bought an urgent application to the Constitutional Court, arguing against the lockdown on the grounds that COVID-19 was not being harmful to Africans. While the Constitutional Court dismissed the application, the case revealed that charlatans were peddling scientific falsehoods, and that such information was being misused for misguided political and ideological ends. The US and South African experiences underscore how easily a populist, hyper-partisan, fragmented global information ecosystem can undermine science and threaten health governance.  

Jerome Singh

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