A health worker measures a man's temperature in Nairobi, Kenya, March 18 2020. Picture: YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP
A health worker measures a man's temperature in Nairobi, Kenya, March 18 2020. Picture: YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP

Global leaders, commonly referred to as the Elders, have called on developed countries and multilateral institutions to support less-developed and poorer states whose health systems and weaker socioeconomic structures risk being overwhelmed by the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic.

Founded by former president Nelson Mandela in 2007, the Elders grouping is an organisation of independent global leaders working for peace and human rights. Other members are Graca Machel, former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, former Liberian head of state Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former US president Jimmy Carter, former prime minister of Ireland Mary Robinson, Muhammad Yunus, Ela Bhatt and  former prime minister of Norway and director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Gro Harlem Brundtland.

The pandemic has rattled world markets, and investors are taking a wait-and-see approach as they gauge the effect of the virus on the global economy. Indications are that it will push the world economy into another financial crisis.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Wednesday the impact of the virus on the economy will be devastating. The economy, which recently slipped into a technical recession, is already in trouble.

The Elders said in a statement on Wednesday the rapid spread of the pandemic highlights the interconnectedness of  the world, and the need for all nations and institutions to collaborate in developing a comprehensive response.

“The pandemic poses an unprecedented challenge for governments, heads of state and international institutions. As former leaders, we acknowledge the fearsomely complex political, moral and economic decisions those now in office will have to take over the coming weeks and months,” the statement said.

They endorsed the call of the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board for at least $8bn to be immediately injected into critical funding gaps to support the WHO’s emergency response, vaccine development, timely distribution of medical supplies and other critical measures.

Co-convened by the World Bank and the WHO, the board works independently to provide expert assessments and recommendations on the state of global preparedness to deal with global health emergencies.

“The G7 statement [on Monday] marks a welcome first step, with leaders pledging to do ‘whatever is necessary to ensure a strong global response through closer co-operation and enhanced co-ordination of our efforts’. This approach should be followed by all governments, supranational bodies and business leaders,” the Elders said.

They also called on politicians, policymakers and media organisations to “vigorously rebut [the spread of] false information with malicious intent at this time of global crisis”.

“Sharing information and changes in public policy and health advice in a timely, transparent and accessible way should be at the heart of every government’s communications strategy.

“We urge everyone to follow the World Health Organisation’s advice on personal hygiene measures such as regular handwashing, covering one’s mouth when sneezing or coughing, and staying at home if any Covid-19 symptoms are suspected.

“Everyone can make a difference, and everyone has a responsibility to do their part,” they said.

phakathib@businesslive.co.za