As of Saturday, April 11, the official U.S. death count surpassed 20,000, a number that eclipsed Italy’s number of recorded fatalities, leading the U.S. to claim the most deaths worldwide. The OWP sends out its condolences to those who have lost friends and family members. But as the United States and other developed countries continue to ride out the rising death count of the virus, global health officials and researchers worry about what’s to come when looking at countries without the money and resources to deal with a pandemic and weather a global economic meltdown. Developing countries tend to have low sanitation, high urban population densities, and corrupt governments that often interfere with humanitarian aid. Additionally, during a time of global crisis, the humanitarian aid that wealthier countries often give to countries to control infectious disease is not able to be administered because global executive and legislative bodies are focused on the domestic effects of a virus that has spread worldwide. In order to limit the long-term effects of COVID-19, world aid organizations (including the World Health Organization and the United Nations) should focus on mitigating the spread of the disease in developing countries, especially those that have limited access to testing.
While each country has had its own unique response to the virus’ spread, epidemiologists, health officials, and medical officials have begun to raise the alarm about an overall level of under-preparedness in countries without any access to the materials necessary to combat viral spread.
“In three to six weeks, Europe and America will continue in the throes of this — but there is no doubt the center will move to places like Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro and Monrovia,” said Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “We need to be very worried.” It’s important to note that in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro continues to deny the deadliness of the virus, and has done little to mitigate the spread of the virus, despite a national death toll of 1,000. Some of Brazil’s governors have put some isolation measures in place, but experts fear that it will not be enough without support from the president.
“There is certainly a significant risk,” said Stephen Morisson, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It is a highly fast-moving, highly transmissible virus that is expected to continue its circulation around the planet. Downstream, as we approach the next wave — winter 2020-2021 — we have to be worried about importation of the virus from the Southern Hemisphere.”
Indeed, while U.S. officials are clamoring for the country to be “open by Easter,” the second wave of viral spread is a challenge that experts are forecasting down the road, a problem that officials worldwide will hopefully be able to react to in time.
In regards to the United States’ efforts abroad, USAID administrator Mark Green recently left his post in March to return to the private sector, a position he had held for over three years. While Green had bipartisan admiration, Trump has repeatedly undermined his efforts by calling for a reduction in both the USAID and the State Department’s funding by one-third in his first two budgets and about one-fourth in more recent years, a move that was resisted by Green, Congress, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. According to the Washington Post, the administration also “ended a $200 million USAID program meant to predict pandemics [two months before the spread of the virus], laying off scientists and experts all over the world. USAID is not even a member of the White House coronavirus task force [which] explains the confusion when said task force suddenly froze USAID shipments of medical equipment abroad last month.” Now, more than ever, the international community needs financial assistance and supplies, and while USAID has committed $274 million with $500 million available for local NGOs, governments, and aid organizations, this will not be nearly enough as the virus threatens to sap the economic strength of the global economy worldwide, and unemployment rates continue to skyrocket.
Another dimension of the crisis lies in global priorities. As well-intentioned as wealthier countries like the U.S. may appear, a sudden shortage in medical supplies due to increased demand and decreased supply has led to private companies increasing the prices of equipment (including masks and ventilators) as wealthier countries outbid poorer ones for necessary access. On both a micro and macroeconomics scale, COVID-19 has exacerbated socioeconomic inequality in a time where access to healthcare and supplies can mean the difference between life and death for those in vulnerable positions. In a recent study by the NIH, some countries only had one equipped intensive care bed per million residents, along with high levels of pollution and other complicating factors.
Simply put, richer countries are better equipped to handle the COVID-19 pandemic than poorer countries. In the past, wealthier countries have been able to fund initiatives to limit the spread of deadly infectious diseases, but there is a vested interest to quickly limit the spread of disease and develop a vaccine that can be quickly produced and administered worldwide. While health officials estimate that a vaccine may be ready as soon as September, the global community must come together and provide aid to countries that are unable to provide for their citizens, and donate medical supplies after the virus has subsided. Until then, it’s important for U.S. citizens to follow the guidelines of their local governments while following social distancing protocols. Be sure to maintain at least six feet between yourself and others when venturing outside, and be watchful for symptoms of the virus.
For more information, visit https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html