The enormity of the situation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic invites – or rather forces – us to reflect on the nature and effectiveness of our systems of governance. And not just of health systems, but more broadly the governance of our very complex societies and their transnational flows.

I start with some definitions, as the term governance is itself broad and contested.

Relationships of power, responsibility and accountability between health systems actors are considered central to health governance. Despite increasing attention to the role of accountability in health governance a gap remains in understanding how local accountability relations function within the health system in Central Asia. This study addresses this gap by exploring local health governance in two districts of Tajikistan using principal-agent theory.

The results of the study:

Every day, an unknown number of elephant tusks, rhino horn, pangolin scales and other wildlife products – alive and dead – cross the oceans in container ships and cargo flights for use in traditional medicine, crafts and the illegal pet trade. Rare trees are felled in ancient forests and shipped out under false certificates.

They leave behind the butchered carcasses of the last remaining animals of many species, scarred and emptied landscapes, legal livelihoods undermined by corruption and criminal activity, and communities ravaged by organised crime networks.

Given the vast dimensions of the multibillion-dollar illegal wildlife trade (IWT), it may be surprising that until recently, global efforts to tackle IWT came mainly from the conservation sector. This has typically consisted of numerous donor-funded efforts to catch poachers and raise public awareness of the plight of endangered species.

Valuable as those efforts are, they do little to impact the organised crime networks, corruption and illicit financial flows that allow the lucrative illegal trade in wildlife products to continue.

High-profile law enforcement operations against illegal wildlife trade (IWT), such as Interpol’s Operation Thunderball in July and the arrest of notorious trafficker Moazu Kromah in Uganda in June, have drawn welcome attention to IWT as a financial and organised crime and not only a conservation issue.

Yet in working to strengthen legal frameworks and law enforcement capacity in countries that suffer from high levels of IWT, we must not forget the social drivers and facilitators behind wildlife trafficking – factors that laws alone are powerless to change.