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April 15, 2021

A Conversation with Ms. Lisa Carty: The Role of Multilateral Organizations in Addressing the Fragmentations in Secondary Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Velen Yifei Wu (SFS'24)

On Tuesday, April 13, 2021, Ms. Lisa Carty, the director of the Humanitarian Financing and Resource Mobilization Division at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), and a graduate of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, joined the Conversation for Global Health class. During Ms. Carty’s 25 years in foreign service, she worked in both multilateral organizations as well as the private sector in the United States and abroad. Her wide span of experiences provided her with a deep understanding of their contrasting yet somewhat complementary roles in addressing today’s global health challenges. Focusing on the responsibility and potential of multilateral partners, Ms. Carty stated that while multilateral systems are not perfect, “they hold tremendous resources and influence... to solve problems at scale.” 

Zooming in on the COVID-19 pandemic, Ms. Carty expressed relative optimism in the world’s recovery from the direct impact of the pandemic. However, the recovery from secondary impacts of the pandemic—disruptions in humanitarian efforts, aid, and social safety nets—calls for grave concern. In Bill and Melinda Gates’ Annual Letter, they remarked that the last five months of the COVID pandemic have started to undo the past 25 years of development. Over the past year, the world has seen a significant increase in people living under $1.90 a day, four countries facing immediate acute famine, and over 160 million children go out of school. These challenges, which Ms. Carty described as the “less visible pains,” are particularly prominent in vulnerable populations and developing nations; as a result, they are often neglected. For instance, beyond the sheer number of children who were forced out of school, it is predicted that over a million girls will likely never go back to school. The disproportionate impact of prolonged instability is not only the product of existing inequalities, but also exacerbates them. 

While COVID-19’s global reach has deterred financial support and humanitarian aid from donors who are now struggling themselves, Ms. Carty points out that it also holds a silver lining. As the pandemic drove global health local—uprooting the fabricated distinction between rich and poor countries—what used to be imagination challenges are now global realities. 

As an aspiring environmental data scientist, I hope to focus on the intersection of scientific understanding and public policy. Naturally, I was especially drawn to Ms. Carty’s discussion of the need for better data and information sharing to ensure quick and effective responses. Drawing from the Bill and Melinda Gates Annual Letter and the COVID-19 Global Humanitarian Response Plan, Ms. Carty pointed to data and information sharing as the foundation of building public health response systems rooted in global connections. However, harnessing the data’s potential in creating tangible changes requires political leadership and political inclusion. While the G7 and G20 forums have been productive, they lack representation from countries and communities that are most impacted by global health challenges. Moving forward, the international community must ensure that conversations are grounded in equitable conversations with communities that are most impacted. It is only if we view global connectivity as an opportunity rather than a threat can we devise solutions that respect the realities of people living within them. 

The need for collective action drives home the crucial place multilateral organizations hold as the global community adapts to foster a more effective and equitable system. As I reflect on the multiple dimensions of such a system—national (between states), disciplinary (between sectors), and demographic (between population groups)—I find myself returning to a statement Ms. Carty made at the very beginning of the discussion: “The world doesn’t all think’re always going to have to be revisiting your own assumptions.”

Velen Yifei Wu (SFS'24) is a first-year student in the Conversations in Global Health course. She intends on pursuing a degree in science, technology, and international affairs and minoring in economics and computer science.