By Ivan Munguongeyo
The world has experienced pandemics before; the deadly smallpox, the Spanish flu, influenza, Bubonic plague and now the novel Coronavirus. These virus affect people with differing magnitude. They affect people regardless of their race, ethnicity, or class. These health crises expose the ugly fault lines within our societies.
Various human barriers such as poverty, inequality, marginalization and other dictate who gets infected and who dies and have a devastating impact on vulnerable communities. This is worsened by poor leadership and lack of accurate information and a legal framework where abuse and discrimination go unpunished, and you are condemning marginalized communities to become easy victims of a virus.
We learned this the hard way in the fight against AIDS, when many people were left behind. Despite enormous progress, key and vulnerable populations are still infected with HIV at much higher rates than the general population because of a failure to protect human rights and gender equality. The corona virus has led to gross violation of fundamental human rights and the health sector being the most affected. There are stigma, discrimination, gender-based violence and police brutality. The vulnerable people in some countries have now been into scapegoats for the new pandemic.
In order to address this challenge of #COVID-19, there is need for all players in government and civil society to develop a rights-based response to it. It is very difficult to win against epidemics by trampling on human rights, but by strengthening them. The public needs to be informed by a fair, balanced and science-based news coverage by the different media groups.
The media should be allowed to report freely and factually, providing bias-free and accurate information when reporting about critical health issues and the challenges to accessing health services. The free-flow of lifesaving information needs to be protected.
In the fight against HIV, the global response to it changed the path of global health, inspiring unprecedented global solidarity in demanding that governments recognize health-related rights and ensure equitable access for all. The global response to #COVID-19 can have a similarly transformational impact.
In order to win the war against #COVID-19, we must learn from previous pandemics and ensure we leave no one behind. We must commit ourselves to protecting everyone, everywhere in this country; rural or urban from this deadliest infectious diseases. We must strengthen the community systems and responses that are so critical to ending this epidemics. We must also address human rights violations where they occur, knowing from experience that protecting the most vulnerable protects everyone. #COVID-19 is here to stay, we must learn to live with it and ensure that everyone is protected.
The writer is a Commonwealth writer in Uganda