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Lessons to be learned from the corona crisis

Professor Bussemaker and Professor Koenders draw lessons from the handling of the current corona crisis. In a blended guest lecture with some 60 students in Wijnhaven and some 250 online participants, they entered into a discussion led by Willemijn Aerdts. The guest lecture took place on May 25.

Based on research and their personal experiences they came to interesting conclusions. Bussemaker concluded, based on research in healthcare, that managing the crisis is done top-down. This traditional approach to coping with the crisis is successful but at the same time it was also remarkable to discover that many good ideas were conceived on the workfloor.

A lot of attention in healthcare is, of course, on preventing the spread of the virus. But because of the strict measures, people were also dying alone and that should have been prevented by also looking at not only the medical aspects of this corona crisis. So at the beginning there was too little attention to the non-health aspects of coronacrisis such as the living conditions of, for example, destitute students who were forced to study from home.

Koenders also looks more broadly at the impact of coronacrisis being not only a health crisis. In addition to many deaths worldwide, corona has caused approximately 500 million people to lose their jobs and has left 130 million more poor people than before the crisis.

Furthermore, Koenders explains that 80% of all vaccinations are put in the arm of someone from a rich country and only 0.3% of vaccinations reach someone living in a poor country. Koenders also points out that because of the unpredictability of this global crisis, we are also hesitating how to act in other areas. For example, is globalization really a good idea? The contrasts in the world have also become greater because of corona. After all, if you live in a slum without proper health care, the impact of the crisis is much greater. Or if you can continue to work or study because you have access to an online world, then you can still develop. The difference between rich and poor has widened. Koenders draws a comparison to a possible upcoming environmental crisis. Our current global corona crisis is mainly addressed nationally. While everyone in the world is affected by it and it would be good to look at how we could tackle a future crisis on a global scale. Bussemaker underlines the need for a global approach to this crisis and adds that in the Netherlands, in some deprived areas, there is a lack of trust in the government and health care system which results in the number of vaccinated people lagging far behind the average, while it is precisely in those deprived areas that the risks are higher.

An important lesson in tackling future crises is also that we must take better account of all the possible side effects of a crisis approach and that, as in the case of the corona crisis, at the time of decision-making we cannot properly assess all the risks in advance either. After all, policy should be developed in an agile manner and be capable of adapting quickly to changing circumstances. Koenders points out that in recent years there has been a global tendency towards nationalistic sentiment, whereas now we should be trying to find global solutions to crises. It is precisely international cooperation that has a positive effect on individual countries. This sounds paradoxical but it is not because, for example, not all are now safe until everyone in the world has received a vaccine.

As indicated, from the beginning of this corona there should have been more focus on the non-healthcare aspects. The OMT, for example, should have been made up not only of medics but also, for example, of sociologists and philosophers so that there would be more attention to all elements. Cooperation between politicians and researchers should also have been better. Many politicians formed their policies around fake news with very dramatic consequences. This also had a huge impact on the trust of citizens in the actions of the government. It is obviously very important that there is trust that the government is taking appropriate action. In her role as Secretary of State for Health, Bussemaker had started vaccinating girls against cervical cancer. The government sent a letter to parents inviting them to be vaccinated. Unfortunately, a lot of fake news had been spread about this vaccination, causing many parents to decide not to have their daughter vaccinated. The government then failed to deal accurately with this fake news. Even with current corona crisis, there is a lot of conflicting news with negative impact on the trust in the actions of the government.

Better cooperation with the research field can help maintain trust. Of course you also have to take so-called anti-vaxxers seriously and enter into a debate with them and preferably without a lot of media coverage. Koenders acknowledges that in Mali trust in the government was very low and that the government also entered into a debate with their opponents to get a feel for what they were doing.

Bussemaker then emphasizes again that the government needs to make applied policies and that generally applicable policies are not always blissful. As an example, she points out that the 1.5 meters is an effective rule but that in nursing homes it would have been better if a different standard had been set there. So make policy based on specific circumstances and of course explain it very well to those involved.  Both Koenders and Bussemaker agree that it would be better to have a public-private partnership for the development of vaccinations than to have the current structure. A lot of public money is being invested in vaccine development anyway, but due to the current patent structure of the pharmaceutical industry, the distribution of vaccines is not wide enough across all countries.

There are many lessons to be learned from the current approach. Both professors see that much has been done well but also that we need to analyze well what we have done and look with an open mind at managing future crises of all kinds. 

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