The Coronavirus and its Impact on the Global North-South Divide

Sam Arkin ’23

Sam Arkin ’23

The Coronavirus pandemic has profoundly furthered the existing schism between the “global North” and the “global South.” The North-South divergence emerged after WWII as developed nations transitioned into industrialized manufacturing-based economies. The largely agricultural developing nations had not been a part of the post-war discourse, excluding them from politics thereafter and thus, becoming the global South. Since WWII, many of those developing nations have transitioned into or surpassed a manufacturing-based economy. While this has greatly minimized the divide between developed and developing nations, those of the global South still lack equal status with members of the global North. As  a result, developing nations are entering a predefined international system that excludes them from any level of ascendancy established post WWII.

While the distinction between the two spheres has diminished, the Coronavirus pandemic has re-materialized this  divergence. The effects of COVID-19 have manifested differently within both spheres and the international community has become disconnected; there has been a reluctance to learn and trade information which has slowed the progress in fighting against this pandemic. What is needed is a more cohesive global institution that seeks knowledge from a more diverse set of actors, which would limit the North-South gap and increase the ability to tackle issues of the 21st century.  

The disconnect between the two spheres is clearly illustrated in the North’s unpreparedness for this pandemic in contrast to that of states in the global South. There are nations in the global South that have institutions that better manage global health  events, such as a pandemic. Vietnam, for example, was able to control the disease better than most as they have had extensive experience with outbreaks and therefore, better infrastructure to sustain themselves. The COVID-19 pandemic could have fostered international cooperation and allowed for the sharing of tactics by the global South for a more cohesive global strategy. Another testament to the global North’s individualistic mindset can be seen with the Costa Rican initiative to pool research on the disease in attempts to foster global communication.This initiative has been met with support by the global South and neglect by the global North. In creating a more cohesive global strategy to fight the pandemic, there could have been a shift in the balance of power within the international system.  

While there are examples of successes within the global South, this is not uniform among all of them. The global South is dynamic as some have managed to implement successful strategies in dealing with the pandemic, while others have not. Consequently, many global South nations have requested significant aid, however, given their status, they have not received any. Vaccine rollout is a perfect example of these interactions. For example, vaccine nationalism, the idea that countries prioritize them and their allies, raises a striking concern for the international community. Many nations such as those of the European Union, Russia, the United States, China, and others have committed to the practices of vaccine nationalism. Most of these states  make up the global North and continue to pursue their individual interests. The  global South  has been left behind in vaccine distribution as reports indicate that both Western Europe and the United States have bought significantly more vaccines than either of their populations. The global North’s willful ignorance of the pandemics global implications  demonstrates their ideological focus on self-preservation instead of global cooperation.  

The fact of the matter is that an increase in global cooperation can help in managing the future outbreaks international health issues and should  rely on more diverse experiences from a variety of nations. As with the Coronavirus pandemic, the diverse knowledge that the global South brought to the table was not sought after by those of the global North. This knowledge could have provided the international community with a significantly better method of managing this pandemic. Vaccines have since made their way around the global North, however, members of the global South still lack this necessity. International cooperation is fundamental to help bring about a more equitable distribution of vaccines. The persistent power divide of the global North and global South requires international acknowledgment and subsequent efforts at collaboration. Cooperation can succeed under plans that emphasize summits of global leaders with efforts to exchange practices and tactics that have succeeded in diminishing the disasters of the pandemic. In this current age of global communication, limiting the North-South gap can aid in a more equitable distribution of information and resources that benefit all actors in a global crisis.