OPINION: The next calamity – Coronavirus could devastate poor countries

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(The Economist) The new coronavirus is causing havoc in rich countries. Often overlooked is the damage it will cause in poor ones, which could be even worse. Official data do not begin to tell the story. As of March 25th Africa had reported only 2,800 infections so far; India, only 650. But the virus is in nearly every country and will surely spread. There is no vaccine. There is no cure. A very rough guess is that, without a campaign of social distancing, between 25% and 80% of a typical population will be infected. Of these, perhaps 4.4% will be seriously sick and a third of those will need intensive care. For poor places, this implies calamity.

Social distancing is practically impossible if you live in a crowded slum. Hand-washing is hard if you have no running water (see article). Governments may tell people not to go out to work, but if that means their families will not eat, they will go out anyway. If prevented, they may riot.

So covid-19 could soon be all over poor countries. And their health-care systems are in no position to cope. Many cannot deal with the infectious diseases they already know, let alone a new and highly contagious one. Health spending per head in Pakistan is one two-hundredth the level in America. Uganda has more government ministers than intensive-care beds. Throughout history, the poor have been hardest-hit by pandemics. Most people who die of aids are African. The Spanish flu wiped out 6% of India’s entire population.

Dozens of developing countries have ordered lockdowns. India has announced a “total ban” on leaving home for 21 days (see article). South Africa has deployed the army to help enforce one. They may slow the disease, but they are unlikely to stop it.

Read more at: The Economist

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