PProfessor Nabil Sadiq was only 38 years old when she died of Covid-19. Unable to find a hospital bed in her native India, which was overflowing with harmful new versions of Delta, her heartfelt Twitter messages asking for help were picked up around the world. The story clearly hit the Scottish health expert, Professor Davy Schridhar, who is about Sadiq’s age and whose family is of Indian descent. As she poignantly writes in her new book: “She would have lived if she had been in Scotland like me.”

Geographical cases are perhaps the key theme of Schridhar’s book, an ambitiously extensive study of the global pandemic with a strong emphasis on the global. As she emphasizes, the fate of people was too often determined by where they were born: to survive a pandemic in Vietnam or Kerala was not the same as to survive it in Britain. A refreshing twist in her story, however, is that often it is the countries from which we are not accustomed to taking health lessons that got everything right, and the smug West spoiled.

Most people have heard of New Zealand’s experiment with zero covid or Sweden’s resistance to blockades. But what about Senegal in West Africa and the invaluable lessons it has learned from the Ebola outbreak? Should we have paid more attention to South Korea, which early adopted life with Covid, which adopted social distancing and masks but sought to keep schools open and avoid complete closure through a formidable (albeit highly invasive) system of testing and tracking? And before the Delta, the Indian state of Kerala may have been a model of fighting Kovid in a poor population. However, British experts, she writes, “are so used to telling poor countries how to make global health that they have completely forgotten about humility and listening to what experts in these poor countries are saying or doing.”

Schridhar will be a reliable guide for many Guardian readers thanks to her regular columns on pandemics, which many of us have faithfully consulted to find out how much we should worry when the virus takes a new turn. Having lived in the shadow of the virus for so long, I thought I would be happy to never read the word “Kovid” again, but of all the accounts that publishers opened during the blockade, I was interested in it.

However, this is not an annoying reading. If you want something modest and full of horror stories about Downing Street’s dysfunctional reaction to Covid, then this isn’t it (try Jeremy Farrar’s “Spike” and Andrzej Ahuji). Shridhar’s story is rich in details that scholars love, but non-professional readers can sometimes seem exhaustive, and this could do with a stronger narrative thread from which one could hang their fascinating stories from around the globe.

Since Schridhar advised Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon, with whom she remains close, it would also be good to study Scotland’s experiment with trying to eliminate the virus more deeply. She notes that in the summer of 2020, Scotland actually found itself within minutes of reducing cases to zero, but it was thwarted by a new wave brought in by tourists. Schridhar hints that an independent Scotland, which could close its borders and control its own holiday schemes, powers that are now reserved for Westminster, could get other results. But given the political reality of 2020, was Zero Covid ever a realistic goal if England was not involved? It would be interesting to break it all down in more detail.

The strength of the book, however, is in its decidedly non-parochial and distinctive millennial view of the pandemic, keenly attentive to all the inequality and asymmetry of power. In the end, wealth has unfortunately become “the best strategy to protect not only from Covid-19 but also from responding to it,” she writes, when rich countries absorb vaccine stocks at the expense of the poor and rich people withstand blocking more conveniently than the poor. She argues that lessons need to be learned for future pandemics.

But there is another lesson that can be learned from the first wave, when the West could probably save itself from emotional pain by recognizing that money is not always said. For Asian countries that relied on the experience of previous coronaviruses, or African countries with fragile health care systems that recognized that they could not afford to be complacent, in the early days “competence, not wealth” mattered. The moral of the story may never be to assume that the two automatically go together.

Viking Publishing (£ 20) has published Davy Schridhar: how the pandemic has changed the world and how to stop the next. To support the Guardian and Observer, order a copy at guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply.

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