Science and Technology in the pandemic

Image: Elyeser Szturm

By Eduardo Bicudo*

Countries that invest more than 2% of GDP in scientific research and development (technology), with the exception of the US, have coped better with the pandemic.

An analysis that seeks to relate coping with the coronavirus pandemic and each nation's investment in Science and Technology is subject to limitations and for this reason must be viewed with due caution. Establishing correlations is useful for observing natural phenomena. However, we cannot always establish cause and effect relationships from such correlations.

For this specific analysis, a clipping was made. That is, the countries that lead the number of cases of infection by Covid-19 were included in it, plus Brazil and Estonia. Brazil was included for comparison purposes, taking into account that Covid-19 settled in the country later than in the other countries included in this analysis. It is important to emphasize that the differences in containment policies adopted by the different countries included in this analysis were not considered.

However, one cannot ignore the fact that such containment policies may have been decisive in preventing the transmission and expansion of Covid-19, at least in the initial stages of the virus’s contagion. Estonia was included in the analysis because it is, perhaps unique, a country where the economy is largely digitally driven and where services are or can be provided electronically. Ninety-nine percent of households in Estonia have broadband access and the country's education system is a world leader in the use and development of electronic technologies.

That said, when we look at the data in the table, we immediately see that in relation to Covid-19, countries that invest more than 2% of GDP in scientific research and development (technology), with the exception of the USA, have been dealing better with the pandemic. . With emphasis, we have South Korea and Germany, where there is a strong correlation between the percentage applied in science and technology and the reduced number of deaths due to Covid-19, 4,55% and 3,02%, and 158 and 560 deaths (by March 30, 2020), respectively. In the specific case of the pandemic, this is due to the volume of tests carried out. Germany is approaching the policy adopted by South Korea, which tests the population even on the streets. This measure has caused these two countries to reach a mortality rate of around 1%. In Italy, the index is around 10%.

On the other hand, Spain and Italy, among the countries considered developed, are those that invest the least in science and technology, 1,20% and 1,35% of GDP, respectively, and coincidentally are facing greater difficulties in dealing with the pandemic. Estonia, despite investing 1,32% of its GDP in science and technology, for the reasons already mentioned above, has been dealing with the pandemic much better than Spain and Italy.

In 2018, Brazil invested 9,2% of GDP in health, a percentage just below France (11,2%), Germany (11,2%) and the USA, with the latter investing the highest percentage, 16,9 %, among the analyzed countries. Among these 4 countries, France and Germany have so far been handling the pandemic better than the US. Brazil may still have some strength to deal with the pandemic due to the existence of the SUS, the largest public health system in the world, which has not yet been completely dismantled by the neoliberal policies that have been applied since 2016.

It is interesting to note that although Spain, Italy and South Korea invest practically the same percentage of GDP in health, between 8 and 9%, South Korea has been much more successful than Spain and Italy in combating Covid-19. Iran and China, whose percentages of GDP invested in health are around 6,9% and 5,0%, respectively, have also handled the pandemic better than Spain and Italy. The US is noteworthy, which despite investing a significantly high percentage of GDP, almost double or more than the other countries analyzed here, is facing many difficulties in dealing with the pandemic.

In this sense, it is important to emphasize that in the USA the predominant health system is the private one, while in the other countries analyzed here the predominant health system is the public one. Another relevant data is the fact that among the countries analyzed here, China is the country that invests the least in health, only 5% of its GDP and the first aid system in the country is still precarious. However, it has handled the pandemic better than other countries included in this analysis.

A possible explanation would perhaps reside in the fact that, as soon as the seriousness of the transmission of Covid-19 was detected by the Chinese health authorities, the country adopted severe containment measures, preventing the transmission of the virus from spreading to other provinces, restricting itself mainly to the city of Wuhan, in the province of Hubei. Iran, despite all the difficulties caused by the trade embargo imposed by the US, has managed to deal with the pandemic much better than some European countries, such as Italy and Spain, for example.

As the main conclusion of this analysis, subject to all the aforementioned limitations, we have that a significant investment of part of the GDP in science and technology is one of the determining factors for dealing with a pandemic of the magnitude of Covid-19.

*Eduardo Bicudo He is a retired Full Professor at the University of São Paulo and Honorary Professor at the University of Wollongong (Australia).

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