A Return to the Unfamiliar: A Time to Act

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As we cautiously but optimistically return to the slightest sense of normalcy in the first months of 2021, we are incredibly grateful to our friends, our partners and our colleagues for their critical engagement and support. Even in the midst of the worst pandemic of our lifetime, the USC community, students, faculty and staff, as well as the broader global health and development community, has steadily and persistently banded together. In new and unexpected ways (often on Zoom), we have worked collaboratively and shared incredible research developments, while critically sharing much needed words of encouragement that ground our shared ambitions for global health with a sense of shared humanity.

No matter where we live or what our economic circumstances, we are all greatly impacted by the devastating toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on our lives, families and professions. With still daily increases in the number of infections and deaths, widespread economic and community damage, and the presence of a host of public health restrictions, sometimes helpful and sometimes harmful, in all parts of the world we continue to endure government actions justified as necessary to mitigate the further spread of the virus.

The USC IIGH team during this period has been deeply engaged in conducting research, developing publications and materials, and hosting events to highlight critical COVID-19 and other developments, with a clear eye and steadfast attention to the equity and human rights issues embedded in our current realities and affecting communities the world over.

Much of our work focuses on developing effective methods for Integrating human rights and gender equality in health and sustainability, as well as reimagining what global health leadership means in the 21st century and the post-pandemic era. None of that changes in the current moment. Our recent work has included events focused on the politicization of health and of human rights in the response to the COVID pandemic, conflicts between law enforcement objectives and the cascading detrimental impact on public trust and the effectiveness of health agencies, and the consequences of long standing asymmetrical power structures ingrained within global health and what is needed to systematically address and dismantle them. We have upgraded our website, engaged in a series of virtual global meetings on topics as wide-ranging as palliative care; climate changes and sustainability; immigration policies and migrant health, as well as launched research projects with partners in Africa and Asia. 

While much of our concern remains on the inequalities exacerbated by the tools employed to combat the virus, as with anyone concerned with inequalities, we are outraged by the gross inequities in vaccine distribution between richer and poorer countries and seeking in every way we can to raise awareness about this shameful current reality.
Vaccine nationalism has no place in the world we live. The pandemic will not be over until it is over for everyone. These are not just slogans. It is incumbent on us all to act at this moment to ensure the vaccine is available to everyone, without distinction, as achieving true health equality is not only right for moral
and human rights reasons, it is necessary for clinical and public health reasons. To get there, however, it will require a lot of work from us all. The colonialist tendencies of global health, something we are acutely aware of sitting in a U.S. based research university, and the structural inequalities shown so clearly through the pandemic, must be addressed head on – not in tiny piecemeal approaches. There is no more time.
What this pandemic continues to highlight is the interconnected nature of global health, the widespread and shared consequences of collective action and the limited ability of any individual, locality, state or nation to address these issues alone. Working together, across disciplines and experience, is the only way we can attempt to recover from the unprecedented disruption COVID-19 has caused and reckon with the myriad ways it will impact and reshape health, development agendas and national priorities moving forward. Across the world it will take both time and a commitment to coming together to utilize our collective strengths and resources to recover and thrive once more.
The USC IIGH team sees this newsletter as one way to maintain a sense of community even in these difficult times. In addition to providing updates on some of our recent publications and activities, please consider this an open invitation to engage with us on not only what is presently true in global health, but what is possible.
Sofia Gruskin
Director, Institute on Inequalities in Global Health 

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