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Value Creation in a Time of Crisis 2021 Peace Proposal Part 3 of 13 Segments

Value Creation in a Time of Crisis

Daisaku Ikeda, President, Soka Gakkai International

January 26, 2021

As heirs to the spirit of Nichiren, members of the SGI have carried out our practice of faith and social engagement in 192 countries and territories based on the determination never to leave behind those who struggle in the depths of suffering. This conviction is distilled in the words of my mentor, Josei Toda: “I wish to see the word ‘misery’ no longer used to describe the world, any country, any individual.”[14]

What is important here is that Toda was focused on the elimination of misery in all dimensions of life: the personal, the national and the global. Undeterred by the global inequities that persist, the issues different countries face or the harsh circumstances besetting people, we must continue to strive together for the elimination of needless suffering, bridging any and all divides that separate us. This determination underlies and drives the SGI’s efforts to deepen ties of cooperation with like-minded nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and faith-based organizations (FBOs) in pursuit of solutions to global challenges.

In one sense, human history consists of an unbroken series of threats, and perhaps it is inevitable that we will continue to face dangers in various forms. This is why it is crucial that we build the strong social foundations for eliminating misery so that, even when confronted with the most intense threat or challenge, we never leave behind those who are most vulnerable and are struggling in the depths of adversity.

In the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, we are called upon to maintain physical distance, making it harder to discern the conditions in which others find themselves. I cannot help but feel that religious movements and FBOs have an important role to play in supporting efforts to ensure that we do not lose our essential orientation—the recognition that we are all individuals coexisting within the same human society.

The pandemic has gravely impacted our world, and finding our way out of this labyrinth will be far from easy. Nevertheless, I believe the “Ariadne’s thread” that will enable each of us to emerge from the crisis will come into clear view when we allow ourselves to feel the full weight of each individual life and, from there, consider what is most urgently needed to protect and support that life.

Establishing a global solidarity of action

The next thematic area I would like to explore is the need for countries to transcend their differences and come together in solidarity to overcome the crisis.

What is the actual scale of the damage and harm wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic? The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) has noted the following in light of the enormity of the tragic loss of life and health as well as the accompanying economic and social hardships: “When loss of employment and income are factored in, it could well be that more people have been affected by this single disaster than by any other in human history.” [15] Beyond this, the unprecedented nature of the crisis lies in the fact that it has affected almost all of the world’s nations.

Since the start of the twenty-first century, the world has seen a series of massive natural disasters, including the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami (2004), the Kashmir earthquake (2005), the Myanmar cyclone (2008, the Sichuan earthquake (2008) and the Haiti earthquake (2010). In each case, while the damage was severe, relief and support were made available from other countries, from rescue efforts in the immediate aftermath through to recovery and rebuilding. Following the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011, numerous countries extended various forms of support to people in the afflicted areas, which was a source of untold encouragement. When disaster strikes, such expressions of international solidarity provide vital spiritual support to those who have been impacted and who are unable to see what lies ahead.

The COVID-19 crisis has struck almost all nations simultaneously, and this creates conditions of even greater complexity, chaos and confusion. If we were to compare the nations of the world to ships that are each engaged in an ocean passage, the novel coronavirus represents a storm of unmatched fury that has struck them all at the same time such that, despite being in the same sea of troubles, they all risk being blown off course in different and random directions.

What, then, can serve as a compass helping us find our way on the uncharted ocean crossing that is the search for a means to overcome the COVID-19 crisis? The British historian Arnold J. Toynbee (1889–1975), with whom I conducted an extensive dialogue, left us these these words: “Our experience in the past gives us the only light on the future that is accessible to us.”


In that spirit I would like to reflect on the example, from the 1950s, of collaboration between the United States and the Soviet Union to develop a vaccine against polio in the midst of escalating Cold War tensions.

Until that time, a vaccine made up of inactivated (“dead”

polioviruses) had been the prime method for preventing polio infection. In addition to the fact that this form of vaccination had to be injected, it was quite costly. To counter this, efforts were made to develop an orally-administered vaccine made up of weakened but still active (“live”

polioviruses.) However, because of the already widespread administration of the inactivated vaccine in the United States, relatively few people there were eligible to enroll in trials for this new vaccine.

The Soviet Union, despite the possible benefits for its own children, was at first cool to the idea of collaboration with its rival, the United States. Over time, however, the Soviet authorities, concerned about increasing rates of infection, sought ways to work with the US. For its part, the US recognized the need for Soviet cooperation, and, from 1959, started supporting large-scale trials in the Soviet Union and its neighbors, leading to the development of a safe and effective live-virus vaccine.

I myself have vivid memories of the way that many children in Japan were saved from polio infection through this live-virus vaccine. Polio swept through Japan in 1960, and infections continued to spread in the following year. As the escalating number of patients became the subject of daily news reports, there were growing calls, especially from concerned mothers, for access to vaccines. When, in addition to 3 million doses imported from Canada, the Soviet Union provided 10 million doses of live-virus vaccine, the spread of infection in Japan was quickly brought under control. Sixty years later, I still recall how it became possible to administer these live-virus vaccines, the outcome of US–Soviet cooperation, as well as the palpable sense of relief this brought to mothers throughout Japan.

Today, as COVID-19 infections continue to increase throughout the world, a key focus, alongside the development and production of vaccines, is how to ensure a stable supply to all countries. To respond to this challenge, in April of last year, WHO, along with governmental and civil society partners, launched the COVAX facility for the global procurement of COVID-19 vaccines. With the aim of creating systems to ensure prompt and equitable access to vaccines for all countries, the facility has plans to supply 2 billion doses to participating states by the end of 2021.

The COVAX facility was established just one month after WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

COVAX facility

The COVID-19 Global Vaccines Access Facility (COVAX) aims to ensure rapid and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines across the globe. It is coordinated by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, (which consists of UNICEF, the World Bank, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other partners) together with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The COVAX facility will allow participating countries to access a range of vaccines, regardless of whether or not they have secured a bilateral deal with a particular manufacturer. It enables governments with a deal to diversify their vaccine portfolio and provides them with an insurance policy in case their deal fails; and for governments that would otherwise not be able to afford the vaccine, it should ensure a reliable supply of an effective vaccine. In the first phase, the aim is to provide 2 billion vaccine doses worldwide by the end of 2021, with 1.3 billion going to ninety-two lower income countries.

This speed no doubt reflected the concern that if the competition to develop vaccines were to proceed outside of any international framework, gaps could open between countries with the necessary financial resources and those without, possibly resulting in skyrocketing prices. A resolution adopted at the World Health Assembly, held in May 2020, recognized “the role of extensive immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good” [17] to be shared by all countries. At present, 190 states and territories are participating in the COVAX facility with the goal of making vaccines available from February. But whether the stable supply of vaccines can be secured hinges on obtaining the cooperation of all major states and establishing the necessary support systems.

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