“The COVID-19 pandemic is hurting us all. But the most devastating and destabilising effects will be felt in the world’s poorest countries.” These are the words at the beginning of a report published by the United Nations looking at the Global Humanitarian Response Plan to COVID-19.
17 Jun, 2020
With our social media feeds and news sites filled with the latest figures, graphs and stories of cluster outbreaks, it would be fair to assume many of us are suffering from COVID-fatigue.
But the stories we aren’t hearing are coming from the developing countries who will undoubtedly be the hardest hit by COVID-19.
For those living in poverty, social distancing might be essential, but it's far from practical.
Sometimes there are several families clustered together in small homes in densely populated areas. Not every family has their own tap and soap is often unavailable. For day labourers, working from home isn’t an option and not going to work means not getting paid at all. There is no emergency fund to fall back on.
That’s why, even if the recommendation is to stay home, many won’t—because they simply can’t afford to.
The 24-hour news cycle is constantly reporting on the impact of COVID-19, but you’ll notice the headlines focus on Australia, the United States, countries across Europe and those where the virus first began to be felt: China, Singapore and Japan.
The peak of COVID-19 hit the western world fast and early, but the same can’t be said of the developing world.
Why is COVID-19 taking longer to reach developing countries?
The most likely scenario is not that it’s taking longer to reach them, but that the infrastructure in these countries isn’t set up to show the true scale.
As testing is not widespread in developing countries, there are most likely more cases than what is currently shown according to the director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO) Dr Tedros Adhannom Ghebreyesus.
“The caseload in most countries in the Global Humanitarian Response Plan may seem small, but we know that the surveillance, laboratory testing and health systems’ capacity in these countries are weak. It is therefore likely that there is undetected community transmission happening,” he said.
COVID-19 will peak later but continue far longer
As early as March 2020, the WHO called out the devastation COVID-19 will bring to developing countries.
“As the virus moves to low-income countries, we’re deeply concerned about the impact it could have among populations with high HIV prevalence, or among malnourished children. That’s why we’re calling on every country and every individual to do everything they can to stop transmission,” said Dr Ghebreyesus.
It is predicted that the peak of the virus will be felt in three to six months. The United Nations fears for what COVID-19 means for developing countries as infection rates steadily rise.
“The most devastating and destabilising effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic will be felt in the world’s poorest countries,” UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock said in the statement.
“Unless we take action now, we should be prepared for a significant rise in conflict, hunger and poverty.”
Younger generation versus ageing population
A recent study by WHO predicts that African nations will not see the virus spread as quickly. There are currently more than 100,000 confirmed cases and the virus has spread to every country in the continent.
However, the mortality rates are much lower—and age could be a factor.
According to the Telegraph, “several leaders in the developing world have speculated that their countries may be spared the worst because of their relatively youthful populations. Younger citizens could result in a slower spread and a ‘slow burn’ outbreak in some countries, epidemiologists have suggested.”
Where COVID-19 has disproportionately bad outcomes for those over the age of 70, 60 per cent of Africans are under the age of 25.
“It is possible our youth dividend is paying off and leading to fewer deaths,” says Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “But we must not be lulled into complacency, as our health systems are fragile and are less able to cope with a sudden increase in cases.”
How can we help?
When other health crises have occurred in developing nations, high-income countries have been able to send aid in the form of monetary donations and medical personnel to assist struggling healthcare systems.
COVID-19 is different. It has overwhelmed the majority of the world, reaching more than 188 countries. Economies are buckling and borders are closed.
“At a time when the high-income nations of the world are facing significant challenges themselves, I cannot over-emphasise the urgent need to support the countries we work in—first to weather this crisis and then to rebuild resiliency,” says Sidney Muisyo, Senior Vice President of Global Program, Compassion International.
“As with most crises, I fear that vulnerable children are yet again going to pay the highest price.”
With many of these governments unable to afford swift and efficient action, we have already seen the Church providing relief and care among affected communities.
Together, we can make a difference. Together, we can see vulnerable children and their families through this crisis.
Staff from local churches all over the world are continuing to serve Compassion assisted children and their families, providing them with much-needed food and hygiene supplies. To help them continue this work, please give today.
Together, we won't let COVID-19—or poverty—win.
Words by Monique Wallace
Photos by Emily Turner, Eric D. Lema, Tigist Gizachew and Jonatan Ruiz
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