The Conclusion surveys the issues that have arisen in the book and draws together the consensus and solutions that are emerging after two years of the global pandemic. Key ideas are outlined, and the actions, both domestic and international, that are required to align pandemic mitigation to sustainable development are highlighted.

For most of us lucky enough to have survived, the pandemic has been – and remains – a once-in-a-lifetime experience. For the few of us adept at using social science lenses, the implications of the pandemic have been grave, profound and diverse. With the threat of further waves looming and inequity still causing unnecessary suffering, we are yet to see the end of this crisis. Into its third year, the long-term effects of this pandemic are visible on many fronts. The global economy has taken a big hit, governance is under new pressures, access to health resources continues to be a severe challenge and new social fault lines overlapping the old social injustices have emerged around the world. To make matters worse, the pandemic struck us at a time when in the backdrop global inequality has been on the rise, collective action issues, ranging from climate change to global trade and migration, have remained unresolved, and democratic backsliding, war and regression have been on the upswing.

The past two years and more have been some of the most momentous in modern human history. The health crisis that arrived with the COVID-19 pandemic has scarred society around the world and continues to bring up unexpected and formidable challenges for governments and civil society alike. With the relentless struggle against climate change and rolling conflicts across the Sahel, the Middle East and Eastern Europe already impacting heavily on human development in just about every region on earth, the pandemic has brought forward another, albeit anticipated, crisis for us all. What it has revealed has been an existential realization that all humanity is vulnerable to this type of viral contagion. Through the responsive actions to combat COVID-19 there has also been the revelation that investment in health and the use of public resources have not been effectively or efficiently balanced to give populations equitable sustainable human development.

The risks that the pandemic have exposed have been a hard lesson for us all and, as we have seen, have intensified the cyclical nature of underdevelopment and the further diversification of life experiences on a global scale. Essentially and increasingly, the gap between the two worlds of those ‘that have’ and those that ‘have not’ has been forced to the extreme. It can be seen in terms of survival and mortality, but also conversely in terms of levels of life enhancing society and connectivity – that is, how well we can cope with systemic adversity, what we can source in terms of healthcare and sustenance, rights and a basic quality of life and livelihood. All of this came into play as the patterns of mitigation affected our respective societies on a global scale. This noted, there are also the positive responses that can be seen throughout this time: the heroic role of civil society, the governments who against the odds have risen to protect their people, the good people who stepped forward as health and care workers to help the sick and dying, and the communities who garnered solidarity to work their way through such adversity. They all need to be celebrated.

The approach taken in this book gives insight into how various parts of the world and indeed institutional and social sectors responded to this crisis. Its scope and range provide an overview of where the Global South is in a third year of the pandemic. With this, it presents answers to a number of questions. First, it serves as a review of the first two years of the pandemic and how this affected some of the most vulnerable people and communities, showing how different countries reacted and revealing how different responses took effect around the world. Indeed, it provides a space to profile successes in the Global South as well as highlighting the global injustices. Second, it looked at the responses in local terms in the Global South, highlighting, for example, how communities dealt with such a traumatic event ‘from below’. Third, it offers pathways to recovery: how the complexities of our global community can rebuild and renew its humanity. Finally, it suggests a reckoning, a reconstruction of relationships on a global scale that will prepare us for the next, and sadly inevitable, pandemic. Beyond these general observations, some salient and more targeted points jump out from this book.

  • That there is a need to decommodify life-saving medication, making the process from development, through procurement to distribution and administering, not-for-profit and universally available.

  • Health services globally should be definancialized and healthcare free at the point of need. Care and health provision remain a fundamental right that should not be compromised or subjected to the failings and inequality that comes with market forces.

  • Crucially, that politicians should act as servants of the people, working for the protection of all their people. It brings us back to a culture of public service that makes the profession a privilege for those involved and not, as is the case in many countries, the entitlement of an elite.

  • Global inequality in all its destructive guises needs to be dealt with as a defence against necropolitics, the wanton disregard of the lives of the weakest and most marginalized sectors of societies.

  • Global resources need to be more equitably shared, particularly medical resources and services. There is a demand to position the health sector globally as the key to development. Everything else follows. This seems to be one of the biggest lessons from this pandemic.

  • Corporate greed, tax avoidance and monopolies urgently need to be monitored, regulated and controlled, and governmental responsibility in this regard should be paramount.

  • Corporate social responsibility could be legislated for globally.

  • Civil society and community-based initiatives have been seen to be life-saving during the pandemic in all contexts and should be supported as a second arm of public service. The volunteers, the women’s groups, the youth groups, the legions of people who stepped forward to keep communities running and safe in a myriad of ways should be recognized for their role in society.

  • Human rights-based approaches enhance social and political resilience and remain the capstone of democratic life.

  • Finally, and among other things that can be taken from this book, global interdependence between peoples, governments, economies and civil society, particularly in times of profound crisis such as this, should be recognized as a central plank of human development.

With all this noted, the role of global institutions such as the World Health Organization, the United Nations, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and international financial institutions, among others, gives them a unique position to coordinate the rebalancing of global forces, services and resources to construct a sustainable recovery process. Given the billions of people who have been afflicted by this pandemic, the millions who have lost their lives and the countless livelihoods ruined, and the mixed, often confused, governmental responses, it demands a concerted response similar to the reconstruction plans that brought countries beyond the world at war. Ordinary people have of course their role to play, but governments collectively and individually have the primary responsibility for life-enhancing recovery and coordinating preparations for the next global crisis.

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