Nature creates viruses. But people and politics create pandemics. And pandemics create new politics. In the 1980s, the toxic politics of the response to HIV/AIDS turned a serious but manageable viral threat into a global pandemic that took the lives of 32 million people and brought illness and suffering to millions more. In 2020, COVID-19 emerged into a world where many governments had failed to heed the lessons of the past, and so they were unprepared and unable to stop its global spread. But some countries had learned the harsh lessons of HIV/AIDS, and had contained SARS1, Ebola, Zika and MERS. When coronavirus hit, they knew what to do to save their people from avoidable infections and deaths.
In Unmasked: the Politics of Pandemics, Bill Bowtell draws on his four decades of experience in the global and local politics of public health to examine why some countries got it right with coronavirus while others collapsed into misery and chaos. He looks closely at the critical weeks when poor planning brought Australia to the brink of disaster, until the Australian people forced their governments to put public health before politics. Unmasked reveals how and why our politicians failed us during the greatest public health crisis of this century to date. (209 words)
Bill Bowtell AO is one of Australia’s foremost health policy strategists. As senior adviser to the Australian health minister, Bill Bowtell was an architect of Australia’s world-renowned response to the emergence of HIV/AIDS which brought together affected communities, researchers, clinicians and politicians, changing the course of the Australian pandemic and saving thousands of lives. For over four decades, Bill Bowtell has served in many roles and capacities at the intersection of health, development and politics in Australia and internationally. He served as a senior adviser to Australian prime minister Paul Keating. From 2005, Bill Bowtell led the advocacy organisation Pacific Friends of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and worked with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to increase funding and support for the Global Fund. Since early 2020, Bill Bowtell has written, broadcast and tweeted extensively on the Australian and international response to the coronavirus pandemic.