What does World Population Day mean in the age of COVID-19?
A message from Jay Gribble, Deputy Director, Family Planning and Reproductive Health, HP+
The world is a different place as we pause and reflect this World Population Day. COVID-19 has swept the planet, leaving all people susceptible to risk of serious illness and death. Once again, though, the risk is greater on some segments of the world’s population—the poor, the elderly, and those with compromised health before the pandemic started. Our heroes have become people who work in hospitals and provide health services, those who deliver packages, those who keep shelves stocked in grocery stores. I certainly never thought that this would be the situation in which we would find ourselves on July 11, 2020. Yet our circumstances provide us the chance to reflect on what World Population Day means at a time when the number of deaths from COVID-19 continue to increase. We asked the staff of the Health Policy Plus project to share a word or phrase that summarizes what World Population Day during this pandemic means to them. Three key themes emerged:
- Health for all remains our north star. At a time when we are all trying to adapt to a new sense of normal, our focus is on staying healthy. Wearing face masks, staying home, minimizing contact with people are all steps we are taking to avoid exposure to COVID-19 because we have seen the number of deaths, impact on the economy, and stories of hospitals being overloaded as a result of this virus. Yet it’s not just about my staying healthy—it’s about all of us staying healthy. It’s about helping those who have to leave their homes every day to go to work, about the people with lung conditions, diabetes, HIV, and others that are more vulnerable to infection. Instead of thinking about “me,” we are increasingly thinking about “we” and how the actions of one person impact the health of us all.
- Thoughtful collaboration. We are not going to solve this situation by acting as individuals; instead we need to act together and with a common focus. We need collaboration among families, communities, states, and nations. We need to recognize that many people do not show symptoms and can easily pass COVID-19 on to people with whom they come in contact. Asymptomatic “superspreaders” can infect families and communities when they don’t collaborate through practicing physical distancing. Nations need to collaborate to understand and follow the science, protect the vulnerable, and minimize the negative impact on health and development gains.
- All things are connected. COVID-19 has reminded me again that everything is interconnected. On one level, what has started as a health issue has spread into an economic, employment, and education issue. As parents have tried to work and oversee their children’s schooling, I realize that one of our most finite resources is time to tend to the competing priorities of life. As a result of the pandemic, millions have lost their jobs, meaning that they are living off savings, from social safety net programs, or in too many cases—nothing at all. COVID-19 reminds me that all aspects of life are interrelated, and just as we plan for the birth of a child, purchasing a new home, or retirement, we also need to plan for these types of complex health issues in the future. This pandemic has hit hard and hit globally, leaving us inadequately prepared for the trickling effect of a virus into every aspect of life when we are not prepared.
While I wouldn’t wish our current circumstances to ever happen again, World Population Day 2020 provides a time to think about the largeness and diversity of the world. While people still need contraception, antiretroviral therapy, and essential health services, COVID-19 has challenged supply chains and diverted many resources for health programs.
Yet this year World Population Day has a broader message that I hope we will carry forward once the pandemic is behind us: We will remain committed to health for all individuals and communities; we will work together to solve complex problems; and we will focus on the big picture while remembering how elements are interrelated.
If you have a twitter account, tell us what
World Population Day in the age of COVID-19
means to you.
Tweet to @HlthPolicyPlus