Political Science Associate Professor in the College of Liberal Arts Robert Ostergard has written a couple of articles recently around the COVID-19 pandemic. He looked at how world leaders have handled viral pandemics in the past compared with how they are currently dealing with COVID-19.
“On balance, history shows more leadership failures than successes, which begs the question: what does successful pandemic and epidemic control look like?” Ostergard said in his article What We Know About Global Political Leadership and Pandemics. This quote echoes the concerns and confusion COVID-19 has brought to the world.
Ostergard points out that pandemics are not new. We can look at the Spanish flu in 1918, the HIV crisis in the United States in the '80s, as well as the Ebola outbreak in 2014 and SARS in 2002, to see faults and successes in political leadership. In these instances, and in the current handlings of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ostergard highlights the importance of transparency about the state of the virus, clear guidelines for citizens and a focus on the capacity to connect people in the common struggle, rather than create an “us versus them” scenario. It is also clear that problems lie in adequate testing, management of resources and the willingness of the public to trust government officials.
Political leadership historically shapes how communities move through major events such as the one people are living through today. The faults and successes heighten during a pandemic. “Leaders are not responsible for the onset of pandemics,” Ostergard said, “but their policies create conditions that either mitigate or exacerbate them. Political leadership can shape the preparedness, strength and direction of the overall pandemic response.”