As corona virus cases soar in many countries, the world struggles to cope with it despite six months past now. As on July 10, 2020, according to Johns Hopkins University, number of Covid-19 infections globally surpassed 12.1 million, with the death toll exceeding 551,000. On the same day, it was reported that the Director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) has appealed for global unity amidst a “lack of leadership” in fighting the coronavirus pandemic. This lack of global leadership and unity has come out glaring in these Covid 19 days. Most of the countries are looking inward and trying to cope with their own nations and their ‘interests’. Hardly any concerted effort has been made at the global level to chalk out a common policy framework or an action plan to tackle this crisis, and to focus and help those countries hardest hit by it.
United States of America (USA), supposedly the only superpower in the world, has been criticised for its singular lack of leadership in guiding the world and showing them the way. On the contrary, in fact, the Trump presidency has been a source of embarrassment for most of the Americans. President Trump has primarily blamed the Obama administration, China and the media for Pandemic crisis and for wrongly blaming him. From Mr. trump’s advice of using disinfectant to treat the virus, to his persistence in not wearing the mask, to the other different shenanigans he played; the President seems rather all too jestful and not becoming of the office of Presidency that it warrants. Despite the WHO warning about the coronavirus as early as January 2020, Trump played down the magnitude and seriousness of the problem at hand; dismissed it initially and, in fact, called it the “China virus”. To top it all, with 3.24 million confirmed cases and close to 136,000 deaths in the USA as of July 11, 2020; the press reported few days ago that the US president has not even seen the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, in the past two months even though the virus cases keep surging.
Furthermore, the USA’s pulling out of WHO, starting this month, has not also helped the case of coronavirus nor the USA’s already diminishing standing in the world. Citing WHOs partiality and bias towards China, the USA has been rather hasty in its judgment on WHO conduct. Already strapped of much needed cash, WHO, a global public health organisation, will struggle to face the challenge while being at the forefront of tackling COVID-19 pandemic. Not only catering to Covid-19, WHO is working to address Ebola, measles, malaria, HIV, AIDS, and many other diseases around the world. The USA is currently the WHO’s largest contributor towards it budget, and hence the problems ahead for WHO at this critical juncture of overcoming the virus. Besides, the recent news that USA has bought the entire lot of medicine Remdesivir, one of the only two drugs known to treat Covid 19, does not help the cause for global leadership and the empathy it deserves. Remdesivir is exclusively manufactured by the American company Gilead Sciences. The US Department of Health recently announced that it has bought almost the entire production of Remdesivir for the months of July, August and September 2020. This is likely to result in little supply of the drug for the rest of the world for many coming months.
In terms of global leadership, Russia and China, the other two powers, did not fill the void left by USA. It could have been a good opportunity for them to enhance their goodwill and stature in the world. As regards International organisations (IO), the United Nations (UN) organisation has not been forthcoming to fill this leadership gap. Nor have other IO been instrumental towards this direction; not least of which is the Organisation of Islamic conference. European Union crippled by its own crisis nearer to home has been dysfunctional on that account. One would have expected the Security council at UN to have, at least, debated the issue on regular basis, at its sessions, just even to note and appreciate the gravity of the international virus situation albeit without an action to follow it up. However, it is also wanting on that account. In this backdrop, the effort and the work done by WHO is admirable and worthy of support by whatever means necessary that it deserves and warrants. In view of USA withdrawing its funding, WHO needs other countries mainly China to come forward and take on the leadership mantle on WHO; this may redeem China’s supposed “original sin” i.e apparently exporting the virus.
Moreover, an important issue that solicits global leadership and action is the acute debt crisis that COVID-19 pandemic and its damage to the global economy has entailed especially for the growing and poorer countries. The World bank reports that the public debt level in emerging markets is now the highest in 50 years, and many developing countries have taken on more debt than before. However, as reported in the press, the initiative taken by the developed countries, including USA, to consider rescheduling the global debt is worthy of praise and needs to be appreciated. Poorer countries do not have the financial resources to respond to the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and suspending debt servicing can bring real benefits to people in poor countries. Although huge public stimulus packages offer temporary relief from coronavirus, it engenders the concomitant perennial growing debt, adverse economic growth and increasing poverty, especially in developing countries and for its millions of people. However, the silver lining in this leadership crisis can be that the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Group of 7 and Group of 20 economies have vowed to allow the world’s poorest countries to suspend repayment of credit. They need to follow up on this now; it would be even better were they to write off some of this debt.
Another (Spanish) flu devastated the world about hundred years ago. Even though the concept of global village, as in this age of internet and internationalisation, was non-existent then; the much-needed leadership that was not present then is still wanting now.

The writer is Senior Lecturer at FHEA MCIPD, Lincoln International Business School University of Lincoln