What More COVID-19 Cases Mean for the World’s Poor

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TACOMA, Washington — When mid-March 2020 rolled around to herald the end of winter, most countries instituted lockdowns to stop the spread of COVID-19 cases. Schools and businesses shut down, drumming up unemployment and forcing many to work and learn from home. The pandemic ultimately brought the economies of even the world’s most comfortable and wealthy countries to a grinding halt.

More pressing, though, was the strain placed on developing nations. Trade and manufacturing slowed, exacerbating difficulties many already had in meeting their daily needs and costing people jobs they needed to put food on the table. On top of the socio-economic tolls, the pandemic overwhelmed already frail healthcare systems. When medical experts and authorities called for social distancing, the response was not so simple for those whose lives and livelihoods relied on close contact with others.

COVID-19 in Developed Nations

The world seemed to come to grips with the pandemic during the summer after months of shutdowns, distancing and mask mandates. At the time, the number of daily confirmed cases per million hovering at about four for Italy, 72 for the U.S. and 16 for Ukraine. These countries are the same ones that hold some of the highest daily counts for confirmed cases per million now. With the winter spike of COVID-19, their numbers, along with the rest of the world’s, skyrocketed even more.31

In response to this resurgence of cases, many European countries feared for their already fatigued healthcare systems. They returned to lockdowns, reduced work hours and reintroduced bans on meetings of 10 or more people. The U.S. has followed suit in deploying tentative measures to protect a people reluctant to plunge their economy back into stagnation.

However, the U.S. has one of the largest economies in the world. Many European countries also boast GDPs that exceed global averages. The resurgence in COVID-19 cases has hit these wealthier nations hard even when buffering the impact with efficient healthcare systems and stimulus packages. However, the less wealthy countries struggling, with ill-equipped healthcare systems and little funds to inject back into the economy, face more severe ramifications.

COVID-19 in Ukraine

Ukraine’s economic stance prior to COVID-19 wasn’t to be envied. It had the lowest GPD per capita in Europe and a perilously fragile economy. Even so, given the amount of growth in its economy and general price stability from the past year, Ukraine was cautiously optimistic in 2019. Yet, when March 2020 rolled around, a change in government and the untimely arrival of COVID-19 inhibited its reaction to the pandemic.

While Ukrainian healthcare is technically, legally free, patients must pay for everything included from medications to hospital stays and even to paper towels. The healthcare system is considered corrupt and inaccessible despite Ukraine exceeding the average number of doctors and hospital beds per 1,000 people relative to other European countries. Furthermore, while the number of COVID-19 cases appeared to ebb throughout the summer, the winter spike hit with a vengeance, pushing Ukraine’s number of cases to its highest point since March.

Not unlike other healthcare systems, there is an ongoing shortage of supplies. Additionally, while an increasing number of healthcare workers contracting COVID-19 has occurred around the world, Ukraine’s number stands disproportionately at more than 35,000.

Ukraine’s economic and healthcare issues go hand in hand with healthcare coverage being inaccessible to much of the population. Already facing foreign debt with a flimsy socio-economic safety net for the unemployed or unreliably employed, the winter wave of shutdowns exacerbated the economic struggles of the population and will likely leave more issues in its wake.

COVID-19 in Brazil

Although Brazil’s healthcare system is imperfect, fraught with long emergency room wait times, limited space and outdated equipment, it still manages to make healthcare accessible to every one of its citizens, regardless of socio-economic standing. In November, though, Brazil surpassed six million confirmed COVID-19 cases. It was the third-worst outbreak since numbers started to decline globally in the summer months.

The growing number of cases has once again put a strain on Brazil’s already overworked healthcare system. The vast majority of public ICUs were already occupied before the winter months, and the spike in cases only made that worse.

Moreover, politicians seem unwilling to speak openly about measures to combat COVID-19, even going so far as to dismiss news of another spike before the winter as ‘chit chat’ with re-elections approaching. Brazil’s economy already struggled to get back on its feet after its 2014-2016 recession. Now, officials are reluctant to do anything that might put a damper on consumerism.

With economic pressure undercutting any potential for proactive COVID-19 measures, projections show that the sick count is only going to increase, continuing to strain a healthcare system already worked ragged.

UNESCO Partnership

With COVID-19 being a global issue, it is essential to deploy relief on a much wider scale than what many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) may be used to. Rather than casting a net of support specific to an area, the current pandemic poses an issue that’s unique in its magnitude. Many NGOs have partnered with UNESCO to engage in a social media network where various NGOs can keep in touch with each other regarding the pressing issues within their respective scopes.

The NGOs in this partnership understand that the world’s poor are the most vulnerable to the pandemic’s effects and are therefore focusing their efforts on this demographic specifically. For example, in Brazil, volunteers distributed alcohol gel and soap where resources were sorely lacking. Young BPW Brazil, an NGO within this partnership, uses Instagram for information-sharing purposes. Meanwhile, BPW Bangkok launched a project that deployed 3,300 food packages to hungry communities.

The winter wave of COVID-19 brought more burdens for the already overburdened healthcare systems of every nation. The world’s most vulnerable populations, the impoverished, the disabled and the elderly, all bear the brunt of these burdens. However, with another wave comes something the world didn’t have the first time: an idea of what failed in the first series of lockdowns and how to prevent those shortcomings from happening again.

Catherine Lin
Photo: Flickr

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