For the last several weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has not just been the top news story: it has been the story itself. Indeed, even though there are other relatively important issues that are taking place in the world — such as the oil supply war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, climate change, and the list goes on — the news cycle is today and for the foreseeable future is synonymous with the Coronavirus cycle.
It goes without saying that for many people in the world and especially those in developed and industrialized nations such as the U.S., the impact and experience of the Coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented on multiple levels; most notably the jarring, shocking speed at which negative events have unfolded and continue to do so. Back in early March, most people had never even heard of Coronavirus. Now, it is something they will never forget.
However, while the damage to developed nations is enormous and unparalleled — not just in terms of casualties, but also in terms of economic, social and even political ramifications, when the complete Coronavirus story is told, it is a foregone conclusion that the most catastrophic impact will be felt by countries in the developing world.
Commented entrepreneur and executive Sanjeev Mansotra: Just as the Coronavirus ravages those in society who are the most vulnerable to infection and inflammation, such as the elderly and those with compromised and weakened immune systems, it will also ravage nations on the planet that are the most vulnerable to the supreme, unique devastation that pandemics can inflict like nothing else.
There are several reasons why Sanjeev Mansotra and many other analysts and observers expect Coronavirus to be catastrophic in the developing world, but the most notable — and the most worrisome and terrifying — are related to population density, hygiene obstacles, and systemic economic barriers. Each of these is focused on below.
Roughly seven in 10 Africans who live in urban centers reside in excessively crowded slums. Even without the threat of the virus this was and remains an unhealthy, dangerous environment. However, with Coronavirus the possibility of effective social distancing is practically nil, and the likelihood of exponential community spread is virtually certain.
According to Sanjeev Mansotra, the social distancing model used in countries like the U.S., Germany, the UK and elsewhere will simply not work in densely populated urban slums in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world. It will take unprecedented cooperation between nations, public health agencies, NGOs, international consortiums, political clans that have been traditional adversaries, and individual citizens to avoid a level of carnage that will far surpass the worst we have seen in countries like Iran and Italy.
While there is still much that needs to be known about the virus, especially how long it survives on surfaces, it is widely accepted that proper hand washing is an effective preventative measure. While this advice is sound in many parts of the world, at the current time for developing nations it is often somewhere between impractical and flat-out impossible.
Many people in the developing world do not have daily access to clean, safe water or soap, claims Sanjeev. The logistics of closing this monumental supply gap are hard to comprehend. It will take an unprecedented level of emergency engineering, distribution and public health education — and even that is only going to mitigate the catastrophe, not avoid it.
At the moment, hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. and other developed nations are working remotely developing software, designing websites, preparing tax documents, and so on. However, this work-at-home option is a non-starter for the majority of people in the developing world.
According to Sanjeev Mansotra, a work stoppage in the U.S. means that some people may lose their homes and other assets. However, in many parts of the developing world, a work stoppage is not just about being forced to significantly or severely downgrade one’s standard of living. It could literally mean the difference between life and death. According to data from the World Bank, 85 percent of Africans live on less than $5.50 per day, and there is absolutely no safety net. If they don’t work, then they don’t have money to buy essential goods and services. And so, they either avoid going to work and face hunger and the inability to protect their home and family, or they defy orders and go to work — and risk dying from Coronavirus and spreading it to their family and community. Without a level of national, regional and international intervention the likes of which we have never seen before, catastrophe might not be a strong enough word for what’s in store.