Lockdowns are advocated to contain the corona virus. However, experts warn that this will not be easy to achieve in developing countries where the virus could spread “like fire”.
The question of how the world’s poorest will survive the coronavirus pandemic rose on Wednesday, a day after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day ban on its 1.3 billion people. It is believed that around 50 million Indians live in extreme poverty.
“It is a disease that makes inequality more obvious than any other,” said Dr. Angela Chaudhuri, director of the nonprofit Swasti Health Catalyst, which works in slums and rural poor communities across India, NBC News in a phone interview.
“We say wash your hands with soap and water or disinfectants and keep your distance – none of them are available in the slums.”
Blocking is important to keep the virus out of wealthy communities and away from the poor because “if there is only one case, there will be a flashfire,” said Chaudhuri, but the economic and social implications for the poor will be severe in one Nation with large differences in wealth.
It is estimated that with rainfall in India, around a third of the world’s population lives under some form of closure.
But around the world, for millions who live in shantytowns and only have access to the most basic sanitation, there is no way to isolate yourself.
“The need for the hour when countries like India, the Philippines, and now parts of Africa are entering a blackout period is to consider such scenarios and possibly set up temporary quarantine facilities for those living in Shantytowns,” said Dr. Priya Balasubramaniam, senior public health scientist at the Public Health Foundation of India.
Isolation is an integral part of preventing the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, in cities and states, according to Balasubramaniam. However, it also gives the nation time to devise a plan for how its health care system can deal with the pandemic.
South Africa, another nation with an enormous wealth gap, will lock up its 57 million citizens as of Thursday evening as the number of cases has grown to 709 – the highest of all nations on this continent.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa used the police and military to enforce the measure.
Dr. Sue Goldstein, a public health specialist at the South African Medical Research Council at Witwatersrand University, believes that the situation is particularly urgent in economically disadvantaged communities that deal with other health crises.
“We have to try to stop it because once it gets into these communities, they have very high HIV rates … high (tuberculosis) rates and people are vulnerable,” she said.
However, she added: “We have a young population, that’s our only salvation right now.”
The West African nation of Senegal, one of the countries affected by the 2014 Ebola virus outbreak, also declared a state of emergency earlier this week and imposed a curfew after more than 80 cases of the coronavirus had been confirmed.
“The rapid development of COVID-19 in Africa is deeply worrying,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director of the World Health Organization for Africa.
“We can still change the course of this pandemic,” she added, but said, “Governments must use all of their resources and capabilities and increase their response.”
Balasubramaniam added that the emergency has a silver lining. How these countries ultimately deal with the pandemic could be a lesson to the rest of the world. Many low-income countries are already experimenting with technology and community health workers to improve access to health care where there was none.
“There is a lot of innovation in these countries,” she said.
Reuters contributed to this report.