Author: Ilgar VELIZADE
On May 4, President Ilham Aliyev initiated a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement under the theme ‘We are together against COVID-19’, dedicated to the fight against coronavirus. The event was held in the format of the Contact Group of the Non-Aligned Movement via videoconference. This unusual initiative and the format of the event was the reaction of Ilham Aliyev, the incumbent chairman of the Non-Aligned Movement, to the situation around the spread of COVID-19 in the member states of the movement.
The initiative shows that Baku approaches its duties not formally, but with all responsibility. According to President Aliyev, Azerbaijan has prepared a comprehensive Action Plan regarding the chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement and has begun practical activities. However, the coronavirus pandemic completely changed the situation in the world, challenging all states with new realities. Therefore, Azerbaijan had to promptly and adequately respond to new circumstances.
First, the initiative of Mr. Aliyev is aimed at curbing negative processes and preventing possible serious consequences from the spread of the coronavirus for underdeveloped countries that are the member states of the Non-Aligned Movement. In terms of numbers, it is the largest group of states on the planet. That is why the UN Secretary General, the head of the World Health Organization, and the leadership of the European Union responded to the initiative to host the event. No one can stand aside, especially the influential international organizations, because we are facing the global risk of a humanitarian catastrophe.
What is going on in third world countries?
The situation in most countries of the Non-Aligned Movement is really alarming. Given that the coronavirus pandemic has hit healthcare systems in Europe and North America, with the world's leading countries lacking doctors, ventilators, personal protective equipment and testing facilities, it’s easy to imagine the situation in the least developed countries of the planet.
According to WHO, as of mid-April, ten African countries did not have any lung ventilators at all. In Uganda with a population of 43 million, there were only 55 beds in intensive care units (ICU). And not one of the poor countries can afford the social benefits, the social insurance system that exists in the most prosperous states.
Practice shows that COVID-19 is not a ‘great equalizer’. Low-income people are at greater risk of contracting the virus and are more likely to suffer the worst effects of economic shock. The poorer the country, the less powerful it to meet the basic needs of people from identifying and treating the contagious cases to supporting communities and enterprises without income. The vast majority of people living in sub-Saharan Africa work in the informal sector and do not receive any unemployment, sickness benefits, etc. And more than a third of all jobs and income in Africa could be lost as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most of the world's poorest people do not have access to health services. Throughout the African continent, there are only 20,000 ICUs, which means 1.7 unit for every 100,000 people. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the average health expenditures in African countries are $12 per person, while in the UK this figure is $ 400.
In many developing countries, an economic shock came before the effects of the pandemic, as the governments of these countries blocked their economies to slow the spread of the infection. According to experts, the countries of Africa and Latin America, together with Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, will experience the greatest economic downturn compared to other countries. One of the immediate consequences of the unprecedented quarantine measures is hunger. Indeed, transport and distribution systems are seriously disrupted, and food supplies in many developing countries, already depleted after years of drought, extreme weather events and recent infestation of locusts, are becoming insufficient.
But how can we deal with the consequences of the pandemic after all?
We must stay together
It becomes increasingly apparent that the efforts of developing countries in curbing the crises are not enough. Many governments experience shortage of funds, thus unable to adequately meet the needs of their citizens at ordinary times, not to mention the existing unprecedented global emergency like COVID-19. At the same time, the necessary international support was absent when it was most needed. The US, Great Britain, as well as the rest of Europe, more concerned with their own medical and economic challenges, found themselves in the same position as all other states.
That’s why, Azerbaijan, as the chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, not only drew the attention of the international community to this difficult problem, but also became an example for solution. In particular, Baku’s intention to provide $5 million to the World Health Organization under such difficult conditions was regarded, among other things, as an act of solidarity with the least developed countries of the planet. Azerbaijan understands that all countries are at risk of re-infection. Calling now to show solidarity with distant countries, Baku comes out with a message to the whole world that the health of all the citizens ultimately depends on the health of hundreds of millions living in the least developed member states of the Non-Aligned Movement.
It is no coincidence that a number of international organizations, including the UN, EU and WHO, highly appreciated the activities and initiative of Azerbaijan to hold the summit. It also shows that Azerbaijan pursues an effective policy and makes a significant contribution to strengthening the solidarity and cooperation in the global fight against COVID-19.
Being an example
Obviously, to ensure the effective fight against the pandemic, it is extremely important to actively disseminate the best practices accumulated in the world. Thus, the example of Azerbaijan is especially noteworthy, since it is also a member of the Non-Aligned Movement.
President Aliyev provided the summit participants with comprehensive information on measures taken in Azerbaijan to prevent the spread of the virus and mass infection. Mr. Aliyev also spoke about measures to solve the problems associated with employment and ensuring macroeconomic and financial stability in the country. He said that the government of Azerbaijan has adopted a package of socio-economic support actions worth of ₼3.5 billion, and proposed to hold a special session of the UN General Assembly at the level of heads of state and government on the COVID-19 pandemic.
The session could help to systematize the positive experience gained in the world and to develop unified mechanisms for combating the pandemic. President Ilham Aliyev said that as the chairman of the Movement over the next three years, he will take practical steps to protect the interests of member states in the international arena and will be guided by the strengthening of solidarity and mutual support.