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In a pandemic, a chance to build a fair, inclusive, sustainable society

COVID-19 declining in India and probably around the world. In February-March 2020, India found itself in the grip of the deadly virus. Neither the central government nor the states were up to the challenge. Caught off guard, public health facilities were overwhelmed.

It was in this scenario that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) came to the rescue, providing oxygen by importing equipment such as personal protective equipment kits and N95 masks, and even oxygen.

In ChandigarhRotary and other NGOs extended their helping hand to PGI and government hospitals. In fact, in the second wave, he also started mini covid centers to provide relief to overcrowded hospitals.

At the national and local level, Rotary developed the COVID Task Force, headed by senior leader and previous Rotary International Director Ashok Mahajan, to help with vaccine promotion and distribution with mobile vans. In the second phase it focused on helping the financially challenged families.

This pandemic has changed our world forever. Within 18 months, not shaking hands when meeting friends, which was previously unimaginable, has become the new normal. But it is much more than a handshake that is changing a permanent line that will divide our lives and history – the period before covid and post covid.

Work from home will become a standard feature. Office protocol, office design, buildings, even urban planning will change. The way we travel will change with the new protocols in public transport. Our attitude towards health and wellness will change. Everything will change the way we deal with the environment, information or government-provided leadership. The post-Covid world will be a different world. It is up to us to make it better.

So, what are the big opportunities for social service organizations as we understand and accept the new norm. Here are some that I’ve identified:

health and wellbeing

The COVID pandemic has exposed blatant inadequacies in public health around the world, especially in developing countries. Building public health infrastructure in Asian, African and South American countries will be a huge opportunity for NGOs working with governments, medical experts and corporations.

A BMC health worker collects swab samples for COVID-19 test. (Express photo by Ganesh Shirsekar)

It is clear that a pandemic like COVID-19 is not the first or the last. Greater preparedness and quicker response is critical. We need infrastructure for early warning, more basic health care and more education about prevention through better sanitation and social practices.

Support for primary health education needs to be encouraged as an important part of the school curriculum. There is a huge opportunity to support efforts to build more nursing colleges – not only for COVID but for comprehensive care for the ever-increasing global population.

International NGOs should also support the availability of essential medicines and vaccinations to the poor around the world. It is well known that quick availability of COVID vaccines costing $4-8 could prevent billions of dollars of economic loss and ruin in the world, with the poor hurting the most.

Climate

While the origin of the COVID virus continues to be debated, one thing is clear – it came from wild animals. As humans increasingly encroach upon wild habitats for food and convenience, we run the risk of more such disasters.

Israel, coronavirus, COVID-19, hugging trees, lockdown blues, COVID-19 lockdown, social distancing, trending news, Naveen Bharat News People take part in a campaign by Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority calling on Israelis to engage in sightseeing and find comfort in tree hugs. coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Apollonia National Park, near Herzliya, Israel, July 7, 2020. The picture was taken on July 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

We must respect nature and wild habitats, and shift to more eco-friendly consumption habits. In hunger for energy, we are irreparably destroying our land, air and oceans. Organizations like Rotary International should focus on environmental services.

close family and community

Another realization in recent times has been the rapidity of alienation. The growth of social media, international trade and globalization have meant that (a) we are more connected to our phones than our families sitting around tables and (b) almost everything we buy, including water, paper and Groceries included, are produced by factories thousands of miles away, while local producers close their businesses.

The past 18 months have taught us the irreplaceable value of family, community, finding joy within local sightseeing rather than traveling to distant lands for each vacation. I do not mean to give up on international trade or tourism, but to merge the local, national and international with a happy balance.

WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the first months of the pandemic:

“Stay safe from coronavirus infection”

Be smart to inform yourself about it

Be kind and support each other”

Let us hope that we can see the end of this pandemic and the beginning of a “not so – normal” life in which we finally decide it is time to build a fairer, more inclusive and sustainable society.

(The author is former President of Rotary International)

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