Covid-19 Vulnerability by Country: The Role of Inequality

Blog Health Covid-19 Vulnerability by Country: The Role of Inequality

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5.3.2020 0 comments

Is your city, region, or country more vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19?

That’s a pretty hard question, but it’s one that we all need to ask in these challenging times.

We’ve all read the news about how many countries—including China, Italy, and the United States—fumbled or mishandled the viral outbreaks. Between being unprepared, not believing in the pandemic until it was too late to reverse its effects, or lacking the necessary resources to combat it, many cities and countries have been rocked by the effects of COVID-19—some of which will continue to last for months or years to come.

The unfortunate truth is that the full repercussions of this viral pandemic are yet to be known, in more ways than one!

First, we have no idea just how far it will spread, or how much it will affect the economy in long-lasting ways. With people sheltering in place, cities shut down, and entire counties on lockdown, the economy is seeing a visible downturn. Small and medium businesses are turning to their governments for financial help, and even mega-corporations are struggling. But how long this will continue remains unknown, and the long-term repercussions of this shutdown could continue for months or even years after the world “returns to normal”—whatever that new normal looks like.

Second, we have no concrete treatment. This is one of the primary reasons that the future appears so tenuous. Without a vaccine or treatment for the virus, it can continue to spread virtually unchecked. Preventative measures are effective at reducing infection, but those preventative measures—including remaining locked down and socially distancing—can only persist for so long. When people emerge from their homes and return to work, the virus will continue to spread unless there is a treatment to stop it.

Third, and possibly most importantly, we don’t even know the full extent of its current spread. Some countries have developed methods to test for COVID-19, but even those are fairly rudimentary. Most of the countries with existing testing and (potentially effective) treatment methods are countries with well-established healthcare systems.

But what about the countries that don’t have well-established healthcare systems? What about people living in fragile regions—conflict zones, refugee camps, disease hotspots, and underprivileged areas where access to even the basic daily necessities are limited?

For these people, COVID-19 is a threat that could prove far more dangerous than anything we’ve seen in more developed countries.

IHS Markit just released a COVID-19 Country Vulnerability Index, ranking the vulnerabilities of countries based on four factors:

  1. State Capacity Deficits – This is essentially the government’s inability to deal with the outbreak due to a capacity deficit (typically in funding, but also in state-run responses to the outbreak). Afghanistan is at the top of this list, along with Yemen, Libya, and the Central African Republic.

  2. Healthcare Infrastructure Deficits – This means the countries simply don’t have an established healthcare system able to test for, manage, and treat the outbreaks of COVID-19 within their borders. The Central African Republic tops this list, along with the Solomon Islands, Chad, and Guinea.

  3. Demographics – This means the people who are most at risk: the elderly, the very young, the pregnant, and the immunocompromised. Japan tops this list, due to their high median age and large senior citizen population. Singapore, Italy, and Malta are also at risk due to demographic.

  4. Economic Dynamics – This means the countries most likely to be affected by COVID-19 economically—due to factors like trade openness and high external debt as a share of the country’s GDP. This makes them less able to properly manage and prevent disease due to the current economic situation in the country. Malta sits at the top of this list, along with Ireland, Singapore, and Luxembourg.

This ranking was made based on not only the four factors above, but also the countries’ past management of pandemics (such as Ebola or SARS).

What’s interesting about this index is that many of these countries are not yet affected—or noticeably affected—by the virus. However, what it does mean is that when the virus does eventually reach these countries’ borders, they are most likely to be affected by it due to the deficits or difficulties mentioned above.

One expert summed it up succinctly: “As the COVID–19 pandemic continues to spread, it is critical that governments and firms leverage rigorous data-driven tools to better anticipate and analyze risks to personnel, assets and business.”

Resources, intensified surveillance, capacity-building, and food security should be urgently prioritized in countries with moderate risk—many of which might be ill-prepared to detect imported cases—as a means of limiting onward transmission.

What does this mean for you, individually? You can have a huge impact by donating to multinational or local organizations that use the funds to support local government efforts in containing the virus and its impact on these nations. Every dollar matters to make an impact.



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