Rich countries should offer more help to those in need

Rich countries cannot win the war against coronavirus alone

The Coronavirus is taking root in the world's most unequal regions

The coronavirus is taking root in the world's most unequal region after many of Latin America's first cases arrived with members of the elite returning from vacations or work trips to Europe and the United States.  From Mexico City to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Santiago, Chile, the coronavirus is taking root in the world's most unequal region, where many of Latin America's first cases arrived with members of the elite returning from vacations or work trips to Europe and the United States.

Many of the wealthy are already recovering, but experts warn that the virus could kill scores of the poorest people, who must work every day to feed their families, live in unsanitary conditions and lack proper medical care. Some countries are making payments to informal workers — maids, street sellers and others who have been told to stay home to reduce the spread of the virus, but the effort is a patchwork and doesn't apply to everyone who needs help.

"I stay home, I will lose all my goods. I have no way to save them," said Marie-Ange Bouzi, who sells tomatoes and onions on the street of Haiti's capital. "I am not going to spend money fighting corona. God is going to protect me."

Click here to check out Australian Government updates on COVID-19.

Developed to Protect the Underdeveloped

The coronavirus is taking root in the world's most unequal region after many of Latin America's first cases arrived with members of the elite returning from vacations or work trips to Europe and the United States.  From Mexico City to Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and Santiago, Chile, the coronavirus is taking root in the world's most unequal region, where many of Latin America's first cases arrived with members of the elite returning from vacations or work trips to Europe and the United States.

Many of the wealthy are already recovering, but experts warn that the virus could kill scores of the poorest people, who must work every day to feed their families, live in unsanitary conditions and lack proper medical care. Some countries are making payments to informal workers — maids, street sellers and others who have been told to stay home to reduce the spread of the virus, but the effort is a patchwork and doesn't apply to everyone who needs help.

"I stay home, I will lose all my goods. I have no way to save them," said Marie-Ange Bouzi, who sells tomatoes and onions on the street of Haiti's capital. "I am not going to spend money fighting corona. God is going to protect me."

The rich and developed countries are expected to take care of poor people when an outbreak as deadly as coronavirus strikes. This time, however, the world's wealthiest countries deserted the poor.

Some people were thrown out of their shelter homes after one member from their community was found infected with COVID-19. Now, these homeless people have no place to go, and the world's biggest economy doesn't bother. 

Another U.S. city San Franciso has a similar story to tell. About 8,000 people are homeless in San Francisco. The city's 30,000 hotel rooms are empty, out of which 11,000 have been offered to city officials. But the doors remain shut for the homeless. These poor remain vulnerable to the novel coronavirus as their immune systems are week and are highly likely to be suffering from undetected ailments. 

Rich countries cannot Beat COVID-19 Alone

Coronavirus & Economy

We do not know whether COVID-19 understands the economy, but there is no doubt that it is destroying it. Without a vaccine that slows transmission, or a treatment that mitigates the risk of its most serious consequences, the only solution is to try to put barriers to slow its contagion. This is the current situation of those of us on this side of the world: sitting still, confined, trying to avoid as much as possible the number of contacts that spread the disease. It has been decades since something like this happened in the West. However, we still have the testimony of other generations that suffered the ravages of diseases such as smallpox –already eradicated–, polio, measles or typhus, all of them now controlled thanks to the advance of vaccines.

Since then, the world has changed a lot, if not entirely. The economy has become globalised, science has discovered more and more excellent remedies, generating a protective barrier and at the same time, allowing countries to develop. For everyone? No, most infectious diseases are on the other side of a border that divides the world map in two: those with resources and those without. COVID-19 has broken that border. For the moment, it is the exception- we do not know how long it will last. But we do know something that we have been saying for a long time: that the health and economy of a country go hand in hand. Perhaps it is easier to understand now that it affects us directly.

In yet another challenge to the wisdom of globalisation, the U.S. scramble for surgical masks, N95 respirators and ventilators is highlighting the downsides of relying on today's intricate supply chains for critical medical goods.

On Tuesday, Americans learned that even with the country nearly shut down, deaths from COVID-19 caused by the new coronavirus could total 100,000 to 240,000. China, the most populous nation in the world and among the most densely populated, has reported a death toll of less than 4,000.

A public-health disaster of this magnitude always has more than one cause. Most apparent are the U.S. executive branch's weeks-long refusal to acknowledge the severity of the threat, and the slow ramp-up in testing. For many Americans, though, one of the most puzzling aspects is why the wealthiest, most technologically advanced nation in the world can't provide its citizens and healthcare workers with life-saving medical equipment.

Underinvestment in Pandemic Planning

Years of underinvestment in pandemic planning is a big part of the answer. But as in the pharmaceutical sector—highly dependent on Chinese and Indian producers—a reliance on global supply chains is also making life difficult for Western hospitals struggling to source gear.

Eighty-five per cent of global medical mask-production capacity is in China, according to Morgan Stanley—up from 50% before the new coronavirus struck. It is also a significant producer of the polypropylene fibres that filter out dust and pathogens in the N95 respirators medical professionals rely on to protect themselves. In 2018, China was the single largest exporter of nonwoven fabrics, of which polypropylene filament is one, controlling 18% of the global export market, according to United Nations data. The U.S., while also a large manufacturer, is the world's largest importer.

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As Europe and the United States struggle to contain the coronavirus pandemic, aid groups warn that without measures millions could die in low-income countries and war zones such as Syria and Yemen, where hygiene conditions are already dire.

Across Africa, the official numbers are still relatively low with 83 deaths and over 3,200 confirmed cases on Friday, according to the African Union. But aid groups are sounding the alarm on the potentially devastating consequences of a severe outbreak in low-income and conflict-ridden countries, where healthcare systems are in tatters and hygiene conditions poor.

"Refugees, families displaced from their homes, and this outbreak will hit those living in crisis the hardest," said the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in a statement.

Misty Buswell from the IRC said areas like the last rebel-held province in war-torn Syria, Idlib, which was already enduring a humanitarian crisis before the pandemic started, were particularly at risk. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a stark warning last week: "If we let coronavirus spread like wildfire – especially in the most vulnerable regions of the world – it would kill millions of people." The U.N. chief announced a humanitarian relief plan on Wednesday, featuring an appeal for 2 billion dollars to help the world's poorest and most vulnerable people. "But we already know that it won't be enough," said Delphine Pinault, Uganda country director for the humanitarian organisation Care.

In London, March 30 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Wealthy countries were facing mounting calls on Monday to give more funding to poorer nations to help protect the world's most vulnerable people from the coronavirus pandemic, warning that the spread of the virus was outpacing the global response. Oxfam called for wealthier nations to deliver a $160 billion package of aid and debt relief to prevent millions of deaths from COVID-19 in the developing world where people are already battling poverty, conflict and the impacts of climate change.

It warned that nearly 3 billion people do not have access to clean water, and millions do not have access to adequate healthcare and live in crowded slums or refugee camps where they cannot self isolate.

Corona Virus War

No One is Safe

The virus cannot distinguish between rich and developing countries, even if the ratio is wholly inverted to what commonly occurs. In other words, the majority of cases so far have been registered in rich countries. Perhaps we can find some reasons underlying these differences. For starters, the average age of the African continent is 20 years, the youngest in the world, with only 3% of the African population over 65 years-old. Knowing that the disease is less severe among young people, it seems reasonable to think its impact will be lower. What is clear is that the condition is not being sufficiently diagnosed. Some countries have chosen to close their airspace, and others are only screening passengers upon their arrival at airports, which is not very useful, taking into account the time between infection and symptom onset. There are not enough resources to test all those affected, which could hide some degree of sustained transmission in the community. For the moment, a substantial increase in acute respiratory diseases has not yet been detected among the population receiving HIV treatment.

The deadliest diseases in Africa cause 3 million premature deaths every year. AIDS alone kills a million people; respiratory diseases take the same toll and diarrhea and malaria account in equal parts for the 3 million remains. These global health emergencies impede the development of these countries, much as what is now happening with the coronavirus worldwide. We know that most health systems in Africa are not prepared to respond to the coronavirus because they already have problems returning to the day-to-day health emergencies that punish their population so much.

While most of us will have to settle for self-isolation in our own home or apartment, the rich are hunkering down in state-of-the-art bunkers and fleeing to private islands to escape the coronavirus.  Rising S Company, which manufactures bunkers and bomb shelters, has seen business increase fourfold when compared to the same period last year, according to CEO Clyde Scott. While the business is based in the U.S., Scott said he had been receiving calls from all over the world, including countries he had never had enquiries from before, like Croatia. He said the average cost of the models that clients were currently looking at was $150,000.

Since the outbreak at the end of last year, more than 533,000 people around the world have been infected with the highly-contagious coronavirus. In comparison, at least 24,000 people have died, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Larry Hall, the owner of another U.S.-based bunker maker, Survival Condo, said he had also seen a spike in enquiries due to the outbreak, as many said the coronavirus had made buying a unit more of a priority. "We usually have to do some level of sales effort to get people to come here for a tour, and now the clients seem to have an urgency to their interest," he told CNBC via email. Hall mentioned one client who bought a bunker without having physically visited the unit. And though enquiries are coming from the Middle East, U.K., Japan and France, his sales to date have been to American clients working in a range of professions, including doctors and engineers. The unit prices range from around $500,000 to $2.4 million and include facilities like an indoor pool, gym and even a rock-climbing wall.

Though Africa has fewer coronavirus cases and a slower rate of infection than the U.K., many countries in the continent have passed dramatically more extreme measures to prevent its spread than Britain has. In my birth country of Sudan, after only one case and one death were registered, all schools and universities were shut down. Several other nations, such as Egypt, have taken the ultimate precaution and closed their airports.

There is no denial here, no mixed messaging, and no unfounded promise of how soon we will send the virus packing.

The tough and timely action is borne less out of political maturity than it is a bitter experience, and an awareness that already overburdened public healthcare systems cannot sustain an onslaught. The Ebola epidemic of 2014 is still fresh in mind in sub-Saharan African countries; it was an experience that showed prevention and containment are the only hope of fending off thousands of deaths.

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Governments in wealthy, first world countries must not ignore the plight of poorer nations battling the coronavirus, or the disease will not be brought under control, global development experts have said.

As African nations slowly report growing numbers of cases and more and more infections are registered in countries with endemic poverty on other continents, there are growing fears that some states could soon see significant outbreaks they will not be able to cope with.

A potential paralysation of already vulnerable healthcare systems would not only have a drastic impact on population health but could also push people further into poverty and deprivation, World Health Organisation (WHO) officials have told IPS.

But if developing countries are overwhelmed by the virus, there is a threat that the disease would rage on in developing countries, even if it is brought under control in developed states, and inevitably spread back into places like North America and Europe.

To avoid such a scenario, rich states must keep a focus on helping other countries with weak healthcare systems, despite the fact they are fighting their own battle with the disease, say experts.

"High-income countries are completely consumed with what is happening in their own states, but it would be good if they could give at least some focus to poorer countries," Amanda Glassman, executive vice president of the Washington-based Global Centre for Development think-tank, told IPS.

"If things are not brought under control in less developed countries, it could come back to hurt developed countries later on," she added. There have so far been more than 169,387 COVID-19 infections and 6,513 deaths, according to today's figures. The past week saw an unprecedented shutdown of Europe and the United States, with widespread school, restaurant, cinema and museum closures. Several countries across Europe have closed their borders, with Germany being the latest to shut down all non-essential travel.

While the vast majority of cases have been in China, where the virus was first detected, with Italy being the country with the second-highest most cases, followed by Iran, South Korea and Spain, Europe is now the epicentre of the pandemic. Significant infections have been recorded in the United States and some other Asian countries, and the Philippines capital of Manila has been sealed off.

But while there have been far fewer registered cases of the disease in places like Africa and South America, many health experts believe that those numbers could very quickly rise dramatically.Healthcare systems in many developing countries, especially in Africa, are already severely stretched with limited financing and resources. Access to hospitals, and especially intensive care units, are generally much lower than in developed nations. In essence, studies have estimated that less than half of Africa's population has access to modern health facilities.

Some countries also face extra burdens such as battling other endemic diseases, recent natural catastrophes, or coping with large-scale refugee influxes.

There is little data about the impact in Africa of previous pandemics such as the 1918-19 Spanish flu (except from South Africa where, because of troop movements, 6% of the population perished). But we do have the experience of economically similar south Asian countries to go by. It is estimated that up to 30% of the entire fatal toll of the Spanish flu came from a single country, India. And in Africa, it appears that the countries that suffered the highest casualties were those most exposed to global flows of people and capital – the ports or thoroughfares for troops on the move, and for sea and land labour.

The Spread

There is something painfully predictable about how coronavirus was introduced to the continent. Well-off travellers to the rest of the world returned from holidays and business trips carrying the virus, as did infected tourists. In Egypt, the first cases of COVID-19 appear to be linked to one cruise ship, where locals who served the tourists contracted the disease.

The spread of the virus on the continent sits in the crosscurrents of travel and financial flows that expose African countries to the sharp end of globalisation – one where the flow of people is encouraged into the continent for business and tourism and severely restricted out of the continent even for the wealthy and well connected.

Just as work and public life cannot be shuttered forever, borders cannot be closed indefinitely. African countries are moving fast against coronavirus, well aware that they are on their own. But barring a miracle, or a pandemic Marshall plan by wealthier countries, if the virus explodes in poorer countries, the cataclysm will engulf everyone.

 

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