SEATTLE, Washington — In response to COVID-19, countries are calling for social distancing on top of other safety and health protocols to combat the global pandemic. However, while this may seem very doable for many people, social distancing in developing countries in may prove more difficult. These nations do not have the luxury of taking this precaution as they struggle to have their daily needs met. Earning an income, growing food or getting water may all drive people out to jobs that force them to interact with others where the disease can be more easily spread between people. Moreover, in places where there are fewer medical facilities and proper hygienic and sanitation measures are often unaffordable, these deficiencies form an ideal breeding ground for sickness to spread.
Social Distancing in Wealthier Nations
Social distancing is more easily implemented in nations that are already generating a healthy income and have a robust healthcare system. The elderly are more at risk of the virus. The risk of death for a 60-year-old with COVID-19 is almost 30 times higher than for a 30-year-old. For a 70-year-old, the risk increases to 60 times greater. Since a higher life expectancy means a larger elderly population, wealthier countries must take more precautions to protect these populations.
Social distancing also comes with significant economic benefits to nations that already have high incomes. Wealthy nations can save higher proportions of their incomes, such as 59% of the GDP in the U.S. and 85% in Germany. The GDP saved in a middle-to-low income country’s GDP is much lower, only 14% and 19% respectively for Bangladesh and India.
For wealthier nations, the toll from not shuttering the economy would be so egregious, that it would surpass the damage of even the deepest recession. As such, from a cost-benefit perspective, not only is social distancing more doable, it’s necessary.
Social Distancing in Developing Countries
Social distancing intends to save lives by flattening the curve for infections, thus lowering the risk of overwhelming hospitals and staff. However, in impoverished nations where an efficient healthcare system may be less established and/or less accessible to the population, this measure would be less effective. It does not take into account the hurdle developing countries face with healthcare. While wealthier nations fight to avoid shortages within their robust healthcare systems, developing countries might be struggling with having access to any sort of reliable healthcare at all.
Furthermore, in lowering the risk, social distancing is also lowering economic opportunities. It forces businesses to shut to prevent the population from to much interaction. In low-income countries, where people may be struggling to get their daily needs met, the population is less willing to make these economic sacrifices and abide by social distancing protocols. They simply can’t afford to. Meanwhile, in wealthier nations, a higher percentage of people can prioritize not being in contact with the virus over their livelihoods.
Social distancing is a procedure that emerged from wealthier nations, intended for use by wealthier nations. Developing countries aren’t operating under the same restraints as wealthier nations, and as such, will have different priorities. The salvaging of a robust and complex economy might be worth shuttering for a few weeks, in wealthy nations where many can afford to take off from work. However, in impoverished nations where an individual closing their business might mean the difference between eating or not that day, the risk of coming in contact with the virus might seem worth it.
Sai Educational Rural & Urban Development Society (SERUDS)
SERUDS India is an NGO based in Kurnool, India, focusing on the socio-economic and health issues faced by marginalized and vulnerable populations. Currently, SERUDS has several boots-on-the-ground initiatives during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some activities include delivering groceries and essentials to the elderly, homeless and those who’ve lost their source of income from distancing protocols. India has been on lockdown since March 25.
SERUDS accepts donations to support its grocery distribution kits. Each kit costs 2,000 Rupees (the equivalent of $26.45) and feeds a family of four for a week. Out of its total donations, 80% are used on food goods, and 20% are used for medical supplies, like sanitizer and face masks.
Social distancing in developing countries has proven more difficult than in wealthier nations. Every country has to assess its risks and needs to make the best decision for its citizens. Organizations like SERUDS are doing their best to help people in need during COVID-19. More will be needed before the end of the virus.
– Catherine Lin