SEATTLE, Washington — To date, there have been nearly 2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 100,000 deaths worldwide. Measures to slow the spread of the virus have also brought the global economy to a grinding halt. With the world’s most vulnerable populations hanging in the balance, this has served to highlight the importance of foreign aid in combating pandemics.
COVID-19’s Impact on the Developing World
Thus far, the bulk of those affected by the coronavirus pandemic have come from wealthy Western nations, like Spain, the U.S. and Italy. However, that could soon change. Cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed in some of the world’s largest and most congested slums where social distancing is virtually impossible.
For those living in these slums, the pandemic has introduced new and undesirable economic challenges. In fact, the hardships brought about by poverty are often considered a greater concern than the virus. Many vulnerable populations must now contend without their daily wages and other means of income. In India alone, government-enforced lockdowns have left 45 million transient migrant workers unable to work or return home.
At the beginning of April, the United Nations warned that the developing world would likely experience $220 billion in income losses. Now, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is predicting the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Both expect countries with existing humanitarian crises to be the most affected.
Disproportionate Burden on the Poor
While wealthier governments are able to provide unemployment benefits and pay furloughed workers a portion of their salaries, at least two billion people in the developing world work in the informal economy. These workers have little to no social safety net and do not receive government assistance. This includes street vendors, housekeepers and taxi drivers, many of whom lack savings or property.
One such example is Egypt’s Umm Muhammad, the single mother of a daughter with cancer. Since the factory where she worked closed due to the outbreak, she has been forced to live without a salary. As a consequence, she, like many others, now faces many unenviable choices. In particular, she must decide whether to use her remaining savings to buy food or badly-needed face masks for her daughter.
Due to scarce testing and long waiting periods, public health experts fear that the number of cases in the developing world far exceeds the reports. In Egypt, one estimate puts the total number of cases at 10 times the reported figure.
COVID-19 in Refugee Camps
The pandemic also disproportionately affects refugees. According to the U.N., more than 25 million refugees live in camps around the world. Of that figure, 80 percent live in low or middle-income countries where high rates of disease and malnutrition have resulted in weakened immune systems.
Many refugee camps are also densely-packed and under-supplied, making it difficult to implement social distancing and other hygienic techniques. This heightens the risk of coronavirus outbreaks. Then, for those who do contract the virus, high-quality health care is often simply not available. As aid budgets continue to shrink amid the economic crisis, countries hosting refugees will struggle to address their needs.
The Importance of Foreign Aid
The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a spotlight on the importance of foreign aid and assistance to global health organizations. With the coronavirus already ravaging the West, experts believe it will impact the developing world even more drastically. Mark Green, a former administrator for USAID, warned of the effects the pandemic will have on displaced populations. With roughly 71 million people displaced globally, Green emphasizes that providing assistance to these populations is necessary to control the outbreak.
Thus far, more than 90 countries have sought assistance from the IMF. If unable to secure fiscal aid, developing nations will likely face severe debt crises and political turmoil that could act as a conduit for the virus. The ensuing influx of infections could cripple the global economy for years.
For Western nations and others on the frontlines of fighting COVID-19, providing aid to developing countries is a matter of national interest. Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the IMF, believes that issues caused by the virus in one area will naturally travel to others. “This pandemic will not be over until it’s over everywhere.”
– Adam Bentz