As the novel coronavirus gains heat, nations across the world have adopted varying levels of social distancing in an attempt to stop the spread of the infection. The new stay-at-home order implemented by governments has disrupted daily life as we know it while sustaining substantial economic damage and overwhelming the healthcare system. But while the developed world has seen positive results in lieu of social distancing, the same cannot be said for developing countries. As public policies were implemented to combat the virus, the outcome has been disastrous for developing countries.
One Size Does Not Fit All
The stay-at-home order implemented by governments across the world has proven to be a viable solution for many nations. Even with growing economic troubles in developing countries, like low revenue and loss of jobs, the results of the lockdown (fewer COVID-19 cases) justify the burdens. However, in low-GDP countries like Nigeria and Bangladesh, experts wonder if a stay-at-home order is the right move.
The demography in developing countries mostly comprises of blue-collar workers who earn a living through manual labor. Social distancing takes away the ability to make money this way and can lead deaths caused by starvation and other curable diseases. The situation is grim in countries like India, where the sweeping stay-at-home order has led to evictions, poverty and hunger. Many deaths have been reported as people try to make their way back home to the villages. In El Salvador, residents crowded the cities begging the government for aid, no more than a week after the restrictions were imposed. A lockdown may not necessarily be the right solution for developing countries where a halt on economic activity can be disastrous.
Obey The Lockdown Or Risk Your Life For Food?
The enforceability of the lockdown also plays out differently in developing countries. In Kenya, nearly 18 people have been beaten to death or shot as security forces try to keep people off the streets. In India, when the Prime Minister announced a country-wide lockdown, people in the cities fled to rural areas in the hopes of finding food- increasing the risk of spreading the disease.
To add fuel to the fire, the lockdown has not only caused distress among citizens of developing countries, but it hasn’t done much to combat the spread of the virus either. Developing countries are now at the forefront of the pandemic with a rapid increase in the number of cases. India has more than 17,000 confirmed cases while Africa reported a six-fold increase in the number of COVID-19 patients in just one week. An underlying reason for this is that many people can’t afford to obey a stay-at-home order. They need to risk their lives to earn a living and feed their families.
Population density is also a major factor that can be attributed to the rising number of cases in poorer countries. There are more than 1.2 billion people living in slums around the world, where a lack of sanitation is commonplace. To quantify that would be 800,000 people per square mile while New York only has 27,000 people per square mile. With population sizes in the hundreds of millions, social distancing can prove to be a challenge.
A Healthcare Problem In Developing Countries
Even rich countries like the U.S face a massive healthcare crisis with numerous hospitals at or above capacity. This has resulted in numerous makeshift hospitals like the Javits Centre in New York. Unfortunately, for many developing countries, creating a temporary healthcare facility is not an option. When the virus spread across the U.S, governors scrambled to get ventilators for their states where thousands of people needed a lifeline. On the contrary, countries like Nigeria have a population of 200 million and only 500 ventilators.
However, more medical supplies are not the answer. Low-income countries have very few doctors and protective equipment to combat the virus effectively. The only way to put an end to COVID-19 in the developing world is to find a cost-effective and accessible treatment (a vaccine is still in the works). Until then, these countries need to be on lockdown which creates a Catch-22 situation as a stay-at-home-order does more harm than good.
The Need For Better Public Policies In Developing Countries
Social distancing imposes a greater burden on developing countries which creates the need for other measures to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 while maximizing aggregate welfare. Some potential options include enforcing a strict mask-wearing policy at all times while increasing sanitary conditions to reduce the spread of disease. These needs to be better access to clean water and more knowledge-sharing on the importance of hand-washing. Social distancing can also be done in the form of restricted crowd sizes and mandatory stay-at-home orders for the elderly.
While COVID-19 is a universal pandemic, it has varying effects in each country. Social distancing is seen as the most effective solution, but it may not be the right fit for every country. Governments of developing countries need to compare the costs and benefits of each policy based on the current economic model. This should be done in tandem with quick implementation to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Written By: Divya Prem