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ICSW Executive Director: Reflections on COVID-19

Photo by Martin Sanchez

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Tom Johannesen
Executive Director, ICSW

As we stand in this crisis, some aspects seem to occur. I want to focus on five of them.

1. Solidarity
Poor countries are hit harder because they often are shorter on resources such as adequate health services, social policy measures and communication tools. The informal job sector is especially hit, and make up half of the global job market. The poor in richer countries are also hit harder because they have more insecure jobs and in many cases less access to health services.

The poor countries need our support to get through this pandemic, both immediately and later. And the poor in richer countries need access to health services and a functioning safety net.

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2. Humanity
Elderly people and people with other diseases are hit harder and need protection that ensures the spread of the virus to go at a speed the health services can cope with. This is costing money. A lot of money. There are voices saying that it costs too much and that we better keep society going even if we risk not being able to care for those in need. What is the value of a life? And are elderly people less worth? The answers will show if we are in this boat together or if some should be left drowning so the boat can upheld its speed.

3. Environment
We know that the risk of dangerous viruses is connected to the reduction of living space for wild animals. And that we are overusing natural resources in search of profit. The natural balance is out of control and can only be nurtured if we change direction and put people, not profit, in the driving seat.

4. Surveillance
To keep track of people ́s movement (for instance by recording their cell phones) can be helpful in trying to control the spread of the virus. And wise as a temporary effort. But also give societies a mechanism to continue controls of other reasons and such making the British author George Orwell ́s famous visionary «1984» novel a reality.

5. Politics
The former American President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated in his inaugural address in 1933 the that «the only thing we have to fear is fear itself». Fear is the parent of right-wing populism, nurtured by some surprising western countries that previously advocated international cooperation. Scapegoating is also coming to the surface in some places.

We have to stand against these trends and come out on the other side with continued and even stronger international cooperation.

We need to build bridges not fences. And understand we are in this together.

(The text is based on my contribution to the News and Views section in the upcoming edition of the International Social Work Journal from Sage Publications.)