Small Businesses and COVID-19 in Developing Countries


SEATTLE, Washington — The spread of COVID-19 has resulted in a global effort to gather medical supplies and secure resources to protect people from infection and care for patients. The pandemic brings to light the severe healthcare disparities between nations as developing countries and underserved communities have very limited access to healthcare. Many people don’t have access to basic needs and medical supplies such as face masks, gloves and ventilators during the pandemic. Small businesses have joined the battle against COVID-19 in developing countries in various ways.

The world’s poor are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to battling COVID-19. Social distancing is unrealistic for many individuals who need to work in order to survive. Furthermore, many people in poverty live in crowded spaces. Simple ways of preventing transmission such as face masks are crucial in these communities. In some places where there are mask shortages, local businesses are trying to help their communities by producing face masks instead of their usual goods. Since many developing countries are reliant on wealthier nations for supplies in these times, these initiatives have made a big difference in poor areas.

KICOTEC Providing Masks in Africa

The Kitui County Textile Center (KICOTEC) Factory in Kenya has shifted its production from garments to face masks during the pandemic as a result of the mask shortages in Kenya and many African countries. It is now producing more than 30,000 masks daily. The KICOTEC factory, in addition to devoting itself to producing masks, has expanded to create employment for more than 200 local women. It is supported by the Governor’s Women Empowerment and Youth Development initiatives. The production of masks also ensures demand for local cotton farmers, helping their businesses and minimizing the impacts of the pandemic on their financial security.

On May 7, the Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank (TDB) donated 140,000 KICOTEC masks as part of Kenya’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund with the Ministry of Health. TDB is an institution that aims to encourage and fund development through trading and is working with organizations and governments to minimize the consequences of the pandemic in Africa.

Local Palestinian Man Begins Producing Masks

A Palestinian shoemaker named Amjad Zaghir has turned his workshop into a mask production space to make up for the shortage of masks in the area. As the first diagnosis was made in Bethlehem, he realized that there was not an adequate supply of masks and immediately began looking for a solution. Zaghir asked a pharmacist for advice on what materials to use, bought fabric from a vendor and found a machine that would fold and iron the mask simultaneously.

With the help of additional workers, Zaghir’s makeshift factory is now producing “between 7,000 and 9,000 masks a day,” a number which he intends to increase to meet the rising demand. In addition to providing masks for government officials and hospitals, some countries including Jordan, Kuwait and Canada have asked to purchase masks from Zaghir.

Local Business

The fight against COVID-19 in developing countries requires increasing access to resources. Local businesses and individuals are showing dedication and inventiveness in the ways they have stepped up to help their communities with this issue. Importing and donating supplies is important to meet immediate needs in developing countries, but assisting small businesses with their production of medical supplies can be more effective in the long run.

Helping countries produce their own medical supplies means that they won’t rely on imports from other countries. This allows countries to gain control over their healthcare systems and become better prepared to face future medical crises. Supporting small businesses will also stimulate economic growth and development since small and medium businesses represent the majority of businesses in low-income countries and provide employment for over half of the population globally. Furthermore, these small businesses are taking action to curb COVID-19 in developing countries.

Maia Cullen
Photo: Flickr


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