By Osamu Kusumoto
TOKYO, May 5 2020 (IPS) – The new coronavirus (Covid-19) continues to wreak havoc across the world, as the number of infections and deaths rapidly rise. It has the potential to infect anybody regardless of age or gender. There are grave concerns that the economic fallout from Covid-19 may be comparable to that of the Great Depression. According to Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, there are 2,064,668 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and 137,124 deaths due to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus causing Covid-19). In Japan as of noon April 15, there were 8,100 cases of Covid-19 , 119 deaths, and 901 patients discharged from hospitals. Responding to cases showing acute symptoms caused by this virus requires an extremely high level of emergency medical care. Observance of basic preventive measures such as wearing masks, washing hands, gargling, and practising physical distancing is proving to be effective. While rapid progress is being made in the development of a vaccine, our healthcare systems are on the brink of collapse as the number of patients increases.
This situation is related to population issues because the spread of infection increases exponentially relative to population density. The outbreak in Wuhan quickly spread because it is a mega city of 11 million people.
The Ebola hemorrhagic fever is another infectious disease that caused global fear because it gripped regions of Africa intermittently from 1976 to March 2019 with 30 regional outbreaks. Until the outbreak in West Africa in 2014, the majority occurred in rural areas with relatively small populations.
The current COVID-19 pandemic is far greater in scale. Globalization breaches physical gaps which means that whatever occurs elsewhere inevitably becomes our own problem. However, attendant challenges such as reproductive health (RH) and family planning attract little attention despite its enormous contribution to the spread of Covid-19.
Although it may not be possible to verify the following 1994 US data (since no results from other studies of a similar scale are available), it represents current world averages. It shows birthrates from planned and unplanned pregnancies and the rate of abortions, which were 50.4%, 23.0%, and 26.6%, respectively. This shows that about half of the number of lives born into the world was planned, the other half unplanned, and about the same number of lives as the number of all births were lost to abortion.
Using these ratios, a simple estimate can be made applying statistical data of the UN Population Division. If the annual average number of births is 139.53 million from 2020 to 2025, then 95.81 million of these births would be planned, 43.72 million unplanned, and 50.57 million will end up in abortion. Tragedies like this occur every year. It will have a cumulative impact which continues to affect the very foundations of society.
Covid-19 instils a genuine fear in society because we never know when we will fall victim to the disease. On the other hand, the cited issues evoke only a sense of indifference because of the notion that “it has nothing to do with me.” This fails to raise a sense of social concern.
After Covid-19, the world will appreciate more that when it comes to infectious diseases, there is no such thing as “someone else’s problem”. The principle should be the same for problems concerning the environment and the population. It may be difficult for people to realize this now but, from a long-term perspective, they will have a decisive impact on our world. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) clearly demonstrate keen awareness on inter-dependence in today’s world.
The singularity of AI is likely to accelerate separation in production and labour and precipitate changes that are more far-reaching than the capitalist revolution. In the free market, brought about by information revolution, an oligopoly of wealth represented by GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon) has emerged, but consumers with purchasing power may disappear. If social norms that underpinned our society until recently are lost, despite the notion of “being able to have a rewarding life by working diligently”, social disorder may emerge.
COVID-19 is forcing our society to change. We must view this as an opportunity to rise to the occasion and build a new society to achieve the SDGs.
(The author is Secretary General and Executive Director, Asian Population and Development Association (APDA)
By Osamu Kusumoto