COVID-19 media coverage has largely been focused on China, European countries, and the United States. However, a quick shift of attention to developing countries occurred on Tuesday after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed the “world’s largest coronavirus lockdown”—a nationwide 21-day lockdown to slow the spread of the virus. A quick look at John Hopkins’ Cumulative Confirmed Cases Map shows COVID-19 has reached many developing countries in Central and South America, Africa, and Asia. As it looks inevitable that the virus will now spread through many developing countries, the question arises: will they be able to implement the same COVID-19 droplet precautions being used in China, Europe, and the United States?… Unfortunately, the answer may be no.
Slowing down the spread of COVID-19
One of the main challenges developing countries may face is implementing social distancing and nation-wide quarantines. In developed countries, it’s relatively easy to work from home, use a personal vehicle to go to the grocery store or pharmacy for essential needs, and eliminate social gatherings. But in developing countries, it’s not so easy because:
- Overcrowded public buses and trains are the main means of transportation
- Many families are in communal living situations where they share bathrooms and kitchens with other families
- In worse case scenarios, people have no shelter and live in large, overcrowded tent towns
Precautions to avoid contracting coronavirus are also difficult as the poorer parts of many developing countries have no running water and people don’t have enough money to buy soaps and hand sanitizers.
Decreasing the COVID-19 death rate
Much attention has been drawn to Germany because the country was able to decrease its death rate to 0.5%, which is considerably lower than the death rates in nearby Italy (9.9%), Spain (7.2%), and France (5,2%). According to an article published by Bloomberg, Germany has been able to reduce its death rate because,” COVID-19 has not yet hit as hard among the oldest and frailest members of the population.” In developing countries, the fear lies in COVID-19 hitting the “frailest” of the population.
It’s relatively unknown how patients with HIV/AIDs, tuberculosis, malaria, cholera, and other diseases that aren’t seen in high numbers in the developing world will respond if they become infected with COVID-19. There’s an ongoing concern in:
- South Africa (709 confirmed cases) where 7.7 million people live with HIV—the largest HIV epidemic in the world
- Haiti, a country that just ended a 9-year cholera outbreak
- All of Latin America, the most unequal region in the world, with more than a third of its population living in poverty
And more. The bottom line is, every developing country has its unique problems that can contribute to increasing the COVID-19 death rate.
The downfall of already weak economies
In developing countries with weak economies, closing businesses have and may continue to cause incredible damage:
- Kenyan Airways, which already lost $8 million in revenue in about a month when it had to cancel all flights to and from China, canceled all international flights yesterday.
- Many countries in Latin America have called for lockdowns or semi-lockdowns, which have closed many businesses.
- In Pakistan, there is concern that daily wage workers and the poor don’t have enough to eat as COVID-19 cases continue to climb.
Also, many developing countries are losing out on a much-needed economic booster—tourism income.
Advantages the developing countries may have
Although times are scary, developing countries may have some advantages that China, Europe, and the U.S. didn’t have. Firstly, developing countries can look at what worked in other countries and try to implement similar practices, like:
- Close borders and lock-down the country as soon as possible
- Test and trace early and aggressively, breaking chains of infection and quarantining infected individuals to prevent the spread of the virus to at-risk individuals
Secondly, developing countries may have an opportunity to receive unused test kits from China. Lastly, developing countries who have larger younger populations than European countries may be able to isolate the younger population and stop the spread to the older population.
Developing countries have the advantage of knowing what’s coming. But that doesn’t mean they’ll be fully prepared for the COVID-19 outbreak. We all know how serious COVID-19 is. What we don’t know is if developing countries can have enough money and resources to contain the virus and protect their citizens.