COVID-19: a rare opportunity for reflection and renewal

COVID-19: a rare opportunity for reflection and renewal

Martin Moignard began his mentoring role at Klibur Domin, Timor Leste in February 2019, building on the contribution of previous Palms volunteers. His role involves supporting the effective operation of the healthcare services offered at the centre; training staff across the areas of finance, human resources, administration, and support services. Martin returned to Australia in March 2020 due to COVID-19 as he outlines below.

by Martin Moignard

It has now been 3 months since I left Klibur Domin in Timor-Leste on the 12th March, the day after the WHOs official announcement of the first Coronavirus pandemic. On the day I left Timor, the decision to leave felt like a paranoid over-reaction; Australia had recorded 122 cases while Timor-Leste had yet to confirm even a single case. Several people pointed out that I was leaving relative safety when the Australian outbreak was clearly already underway. The reality was that Timor-Leste had the same risk of a coronavirus outbreak but with far fewer healthcare capabilities and other support systems in place; for example Timor-Leste has only one ventilator. Only time could tell if the healthcare system on the island would be overrun. 

As of June 3rd, Timor-Leste has recorded a total of 24 cases and 0 deaths with no new cases for the last 40 days, a great achievement that reflects the capability and professionalism of the Timor-Leste government’s COVID-19 Crisis Response Team and their timely implementation of the necessary travel ban and lock down measures as well as the expert management and treatment of suspects and patients by Timorese health workers.

Time to reflect

The lock down has been an opportunity for reflection and an opportunity for permanent change in our business as usual model, but the ongoing development of the pandemic has left little space in our minds for major pressing issues which have been cast aside as the pandemic further exacerbates and sucks oxygen out of discussion on the issues which were at the forefront of our minds just months ago such as entrenched global inequality, ecological degradation, and the resolution of inter-generational conflict and violence.

The pandemic has been a major speed bump to our trajectory in early 2020 but we have to ask ourselves why we want to get back to where we were at the beginning of the year. Even if it seems like the coronavirus has been a circuit breaker, the worlds other pressing issues aren’t getting in line behind the pandemic, the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 brought these suppressed issues to a head and has given us brief pause to acknowledge humanity’s ongoing struggle for equality as we stand in solidarity with the Black community in the US and around the world. 

A factor in Timor Leste’s success  

The success of Timor-Leste in managing the pandemic response is due in no small part to the local expertise of Timorese healthcare workers who have years of experience in dealing with contagious disease responses. Timor-Leste is on its way to eradicating malaria and is putting up a major fight against Tuberculosis, commonly known as TB, which killed 1.6 million people globally in 2019 alone, primarily in the developing world and due to a lack of funding for contact tracing and testing equipment, terms which have become common language as the threat of the pandemic reaches the relative safety of countries without many cases of TB.

The fight against TB doesn’t stop during the pandemic, the Klibur Domin Tuberculosis team sign contracts for a new TB project with the UN International Organisation for Migration with new funding from the Korean International Cooperation Agency in May 2020.

Australia and Timor-Leste both implemented harsh lockdown and social distancing measures soon after the official announcement of the pandemic on March 11.  It is becoming clearer that we chose to take economically costly but morally necessary steps to minimise the loss of life and it now seems that because of that choice we may make our way towards a faster economic and social recovery as a result. As we look towards the way forward the challenge is now slowly unwinding the travel bans and lockdowns following the consensus of our medical community. Just as Australia’s volunteers have had their activities restricted during the pandemic so will Timor-Leste and many other countries with connections to Australia be feeling their absence. As our nations consider reopening international travel Australia should be thinking to include the Pacific Islands and Timor-Leste in Australia’s safe travel zone where these countries are successfully protecting themselves from further coronavirus outbreaks.

Coronavirus in selected countries as of 03 June 2020

CountryConfirmed Cases (new)Deaths (new)Days Since Last Case
Australia7221 (17)103 (0)0
Timor Leste24 (0)0 (0)40
Papua New Guinea8 (0)0 (0)41
Kiribati0 (0)0 (0)0
Samoa0 (0)0 (0)0
Source: WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Situation Report June 3, 2020

What’s important

For some of us, the last three months have been spent watching events unfold across the world from the relative safety of our homes; as Europe and North America overtook China as the global epicentre, and now as the virus spreads through South America and South Asia at an alarming pace. The opportunity for reflection that the time has afforded us will hopefully assist us to better understand what is important to us as individuals and as global citizens; for me it is social and economic inequality and the lack of adequate universal healthcare. Furthermore, it is an opportunity for us to think about how we can find the intersection between globalisation and sustainability which puts communities and local development ahead of the historical exploitation that has caused this intrenched inequality in our communities and around the world.

While there is no clear end in sight for the coronavirus pandemic at the global level, we can begin to look to our own communities to resume some of our way of life where it is safe to do so and challenge the idea that we want to get back to business as usual by taking this chance for reflection to find new opportunities to address pressing social issues that will again come to the forefront just as the coronavirus eventually recedes.

While Martin is home, Palms will continue to support him personally, professionally and financially as required.  Your donation will assist and help us return him to the field when the time comes.