Harvard University grads connect pandemic response policies across borders

Hundal: I’ve been working as a freelance health journalist for over six years now. At the same time, I have a background as a public policy specialist advising on health care policies that support marginalized populations. So, when the pandemic took hold and quarantine mandates started to be initiated, I […]

Hundal: I’ve been working as a freelance health journalist for over six years now. At the same time, I have a background as a public policy specialist advising on health care policies that support marginalized populations. So, when the pandemic took hold and quarantine mandates started to be initiated, I was looking at the situation through both of these lenses. … Our hope for a takeaway from this project is that health care leaders and legislators around the world can get a clearer picture, empirically, of what’s working and what is isn’t working to bring this pandemic to a close.

Q. How did you decide which nations to include and how did you reach the leaders?

Hundal: Typically, the leaders reach out to us. I bring to this project many years of experience in international development work. Over the course of that work, we’ve liaised with stakeholders in public service and clinical medicine and in the public policy sectors, who circle back now to point us toward guests for the program. What’s been fantastic about this is that once we’ve interviewed a guest from each region, they’re able to point us to neighboring countries who they may have developed coordinated COVID responses with and want to share their own perspective.

Q. How was interviewing indigenous leaders within the United States important to this project?

Rajagopal: What we’re seeing in indigenous communities is, not only are they bearing the brunt of COVID infections, but they’re also having hard times dealing with lack of public infrastructure. … For both the Cherokee and Navajo Nations, the United States passed the CARES Act and there was a certain amount of funding that was set aside for them at the initial stages of the pandemic. They weren’t able to receive that immediately, so they actually had to pursue a number of federal lawsuits. Once they got that funding, they were able to implement more social distancing policies and put more people on leave in their government offices, which helped improve the response.

Q. Are there any other takeaways you’d like to highlight from the interviews you’ve done?

Hundal: I would point to our interview with the prime minister of Bhutan, a small country in South Asia. The prime minister is actually a neurologist who moonlights as a doctor on the weekends. He’s one of the only heads of government in the world who’s also a practicing physician and understands what’s at stake because he’s on the front lines.

Rajagopal: I’d point to an interview we had with Prime Minister Gaston Browne of Antigua and Barbuda. During the interview, he mentioned that a lot of the reasons why his government wasn’t able to get the resources they needed were due to repercussions of slavery. He pointed to the notion of reparations mitigating the effects that some of these larger countries that engaged in slavery have enacted upon these communities. For example, climate change is a big issue in the Caribbean. These funds that could come from reparations not only do justice to the descendants of slaves, but they provide great public health infrastructure.

Q. What do you hope a viewer of this project takes away from the information you’ve made available to them?

Hundal: A crisis as expansive as a pandemic necessitates expanded notions of good governance. In this case, good governance means working with each other. It’s been really important to highlight that cooperation and coordination, and we hope to bring an element of that cooperation more broadly and inspire more legislators and leaders to think about how a pandemic requires working with each other to overcome.

Interview was edited and condensed.

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