On Monday April 6, Pope Francis started an emergency fund to help developing countries affected by the coronavirus and jumpstarted the donations with a generous contribution of $750,000. The Pope has also specifically asked church entities and dioceses to contribute.
This initiative differs from the response of other nations. For example, President Donald Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to order corporations such as General Motors and 3M to begin production on coronavirus-related health supplies, such as ventilators and masks. Trump used this act to prohibit the exports of necessary equipment.
“It’s difficult for [developing] countries or governments having those conversations [about supplies] with manufacturers, when much wealthier countries are having those same conversations,” says Charles Holmes, a board member of Zambia’s Centre for Infectious Disease Research. “The private sector is likely to respond to the highest bidder for many of these supplies, that’s just business.”
Essentially, developing countries are being left in the dust. Although developed countries are currently experiencing higher infection and death rates, the Global South lacks the same fiscal and medical resources should the virus become a more significant threat.
In Brazil, 23,000 COVID-19 tests are backlogged because the chemicals needed for the test are being sent exclusively to the U.S. and Europe. South Africa is in a similar position. They require international manufacturers and exports to produce test results and to provide medical equipment.
“We have the capacity to do large testing, but we’ve been bedeviled by the fact that actual testing materials, reagents, haven’t been coming,” says infectious disease expert Dr. Francis Venter. “We’re not as wealthy. We don’t have as many ventilators, we don’t have as many doctors, our health system was in a precarious position before coronavirus.”
Pope Francis is taking a step in the right direction by starting a fund for developing countries. But is it enough? Attributing a numerical amount to the worth of the Catholic Church is near impossible. For context, from June 2017 to June 2018, the Catholic Church of the United States spent more than $300 million on sex abuse cases alone. Likewise, in 2015, CNN Money reported the Vatican Bank to have $8 billion in assets in 2015.
It is clear that Pope Francis is making an effort relative to other global leaders, but the $750,000 fund seems like a measly number compared to the generous donations of some celebrities; for instance, Lady Gaga has raised $35 million toward efforts to fight against COVID-19.
The way that Pope Francis conducts the church’s responses to COVID-19 will allow followers to understand the significance of this disaster. Contrary to some religious leaders in the U.S. who violated stay-at-home orders and told their followers they can be cured of COVID-19 by going to church, Pope Francis is giving the pandemic an appropriate level of concern.