A push for biosecurity and science diplomacy

3. Apr. 2020

Lessons (to be) learnt from living with Covid-19 (#3)

by Klaus Schuch

Biosecurity issues such as pandemic virus outbreaks have been clearly underestimated in the past in comparison to other security issues. The crisis has shown that the interplay between science and security is probably in no other science-security-nexus more important than in the field of biosecurity. On the other hand has the contribution of armed forces to combat the Covid-19 crisis been yet close to zero in Austria, which is good, because I imagine that armed marching troops in our streets would create a horrendous picture.

Nevertheless, pandemics, according to Antoni Plàsencia, are still being dealt with in a disaster response more than a preparedness response mode.

Covid-19 clearly showed the need to have good science diplomacy structures in place, which work in the direction of a preparedness response mode. Imagine what would have happened if China - after a poor beginning - would not have reported about it during the first two months of outbreak and would not have shared scientific results and statistics?

In this sense, "rapidly sharing scientific information helps to provide urgently needed guidance to epidemiologists, clinicians, nurses, modellers, as well as other public health actors, policy makers and civil society organisations to plan and evaluate the effectiveness of their interventions.” (Katja Mayer, ZSI). We need clear open science policies and infrastructures for this. This does not refer to medical data only, but also to other domains of knowledge that are currently used to create evidence for decision making, like economics, statistics, sociology, psychology, education, public health, and many more. Science diplomats should help to increase openness on a global level.

The crisis also showed how important international world-wide organisations such as the WHO are, especially in times of populistic and ignorant political leaders. This is meant in two ways: first, to alert the population about the danger if political leaders do not act (or even consider them as unbeatable Marvel-like super heroes). And second, to argue with scientific evidence, if the political leaders over-act (by, for instance, introducing authoritarian regimes like in Hungary).

Despite the impressing global cooperation of scientists, we have also witnessed that every country seems to be “fighting its own battle based on their own realities that are believed in” (Alexis Roig), leading to absurd and dangerous situations such as the blocking of masks and gloves at intra-EU borders.

That the EU has no competence in public health policy is for sure a shortcoming. In the domain of research policy, the EC launched already an emergency call for research about Covid-19 on January 30 (and we should remember that the city of Wuhan was locked down just on January 23 in an effort to contain the virus) and the rapid application and selection process should be appreciated. More than 100 institutions are involved in these multidisciplinary projects that will improve the response to the outbreak through transnational cooperation, several of them also involving Chinese partners.

Pandemics are, by definition, a transnational phenomenon and no single country can combat them alone (Julia MacKenzie). This holds especially true for the poorer countries, not only but especially those of the Global South. Science diplomacy  could prove its effectiveness if it would start quickly in facilitating medical but also scientific cooperation with these countries.

The project "Using science for/in diplomacy for addressing global challenges" (S4D4C), funded under Horizon 2020 and coordinated by ZSI has promptly taken-up this topic. Have a look on what experts are talking about covid-19 and science diplomacy here /feel free to get in touch with the S4D4C coordinator at ZSI if you want to know more: Elke Dall).



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Tags: bioeconomy, Corona Virus, science diplomacy