YAMOUSSOUKRO, Cote d’Ivoire — COVID-19 poses a unique set of obstacles in nations with high concentrations of poverty. Those living in poverty are often unable to afford or do not have access to lifesaving medical attention. Additionally, increased unemployment as a result of COVID-19 exacerbates poverty and further contributes to vulnerable families not having access to food and other resources. Keeping this in mind is particularly relevant in battling COVID-19 in Côte d’Ivoire, where 46.3% of the population falls below the poverty line.
- The Ministry of Public Health and Hygiene of Côte d’Ivoire had the first confirmed case of COVID-19 on March 11, 2020. The 45-year-old man who tested positive had returned from a trip to Italy the week prior and notified public health authorities upon developing symptoms. The man’s wife also tested positive the following day.
- As of June 3, 2020, there were 3,024 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Côte d’Ivoire. Of those who have tested positive, 1,501 recovered and 33 died.
- There are only 0.23 medical doctors per 1,000 of the population in Côte d’Ivoire. According to The World Health Organization (WHO), fewer than 2.3 health workers per 1,000 is insufficient to meet health care needs. The COVID-19 crisis only exacerbates these needs.
Restrictions in Place
The government has implemented a series of measures aimed toward slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Côte d’Ivoire, including the following:
- The suspension of passenger flights.
- The closing of restaurants and bars.
- The closing of schools, including those at the university level, until at least May 17, 2020.
- The encouragement of social distancing, involving remaining at least one meter apart from other persons.
- The banning of gatherings of more than 50 people.
- The placement of a nationwide 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.
- The prohibition of inter-city travel, with some exceptions.
- The encouragement of vulnerable populations to stay at home.
- Making face masks mandatory in Abidjan, the country’s major urban center.
COVID-19 Initiatives in Côte d’Ivoire
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister’s Office has appointed a National Response Coordination Unit and has substantially improved and streamlined the response to COVID-19 in Côte d’Ivoire. It has done this by increasing cooperation in addressing the virus between different government offices and regions, and by overseeing the implementation of the restrictions and guidelines.
The Ministry of Youth, in coordination with UNICEF, has trained bloggers to identify and respond to fake news regarding the virus. For example, there is a misconception that COVID-19 will not spread as easily in Côte d’Ivoire due to the high-temperature climate. Youth bloggers have received encouragement to debunk these myths and others and provide accurate information about the virus using their platform.
“Mon école à la maison,” a nationwide distance-learning program, emerged on TV, radio and WebTV in addition to the free, SMS-based system. This program attempts to protect students who live in rural areas or come from low-income backgrounds by ensuring that they still have access to free education despite that schools are no longer in session. This is particularly important for those who live in poverty, as they are often the most likely to lack access to educational resources.
The social protection Ministries, in partnership with UNICEF and the World Bank, are creating an action plan to provide food, psychological support and cash transfers to vulnerable populations. This program is still in the drafting process but aims to help those living in poverty experiencing further disadvantages from the virus, so they are still able to get by on a day-to-day basis considering the social distancing measures in place.
COVID-19 will disproportionately affect the population living under the poverty-line in Côte d’Ivoire, and the number of those living under the poverty-line could potentially grow as the virus spreads and causes more social disruption. However, the government, in partnership with other organizations, such as WHO, UNICEF and The World Bank, is attempting to ameliorate the impacts of the virus on the poor by ensuring that accurate information enters the population, vulnerable populations receive the means to survive, children are able to stay in school, the virus has limited spread and the creation of treatments accelerates.
– Elizabeth Davis