Pandemic pain in the developing world

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 8th of September, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. First up: pandemic pain in the developing world.

Government-ordered lockdowns in wealthy nations have caused serious economic and social damage. But in poorer, developing countries, the consequences are even more severe.

EICHER: WORLD’s Sarah Schweinsberg reports now on some of the problems facing Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and South America.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Three years ago, the Myanmar military drove an ethnic Muslim minitority group—called the Rohingya—out of the country. 

Since then, they’ve been living in Bangladesh in a refugee camp, nearly a million strong. 

Frederick Christopher directs the Rohingya refugee response for World Vision. Before COVID-19, Christopher says many Rohingyan adults left the camp each day to work.

CHRISTOPHER: Almost like about 30 to 40 percent of the Rohingya people…

In March, the Bangladeshi government ordered the camp into lockdown, along with the rest of the country. 

So for six months now, the Rohingya haven’t been able to leave and fewer aid workers can come into the camp.

Frederick Christopher says so far only 3 percent of Rohingyas have contracted COVID-19.

CHRISTOPHER: Around 50 deaths so far as happened, so not that much. 

What is widespread, is economic depression. Many Rohingya have gone from earning about $4 U.S. dollars a day to $1 dollar. 

Frederick Christopher says with parents under economic pressure, the camp has seen an uptick in child labor, child marriages, and trafficking. 

CHRISTOPHER: They are saying that they’re not worried about COVID attacking them, but they’re really worried about the safety and security and of the children.

These are the cost benefit calculations of lockdowns in many developing countries. 

The International Food Policy Research Institute estimates 140 million people will slip back into extreme poverty, living on less than $2 per day as a result of restrictions designed to stop the virus from spreading.

The United Nations says as many as 300,000 people a day could die from starvation and disease due to lockdown fallout—many more than COVID-19 has killed. 

Jay Richards is a scholar at the Discovery Institute and a business professor at the Catholic University of America. He says these estimates are based on computer modeling that could be wrong. But…

RICHARDS: Even if the malnutrition and deaths are a 10th of what the UN is predicting, it would still be a catastrophe. The problem is not that we don’t have enough food, it’s that getting food where it needs to go at the right time…

Even before the pandemic, countries like Yemen, Burkina Faso, and Venezuela were already facing extreme food shortages because of conflict, flooding, and drought.  

Richards says lockdowns, border closures, and supply chain disruptions have drastically exaggerated these challenges. 

RICHARDS: If you have a shock to the system, then suddenly there can be a lot of food, but it’s sitting somewhere on the other side of an ocean, in shipping containers getting rotten when the people that actually need it, don’t have access to it.  

In South Sudan, two-thirds of the country already depended on food aid. Dr. Mesfin Loha is World Vision’s director there. He says lockdowns led to more supply shortages and inflated prices.

LOHA: Because the countries required the trucks, drivers, and other stuff to get tested at the border with very long delays, sometimes up to three weeks, four weeks. So that really delayed supplies shipment into the country.

Dr. Loha says social distancing precautions have also hampered humanitarian efforts.  

LOHA: For example, the Food Distribution Program that could take one week could take up to three weeks because we only take a few people at a time. The physical distancing arrangement, the temperature taking arrangement and also the hand washing facilities.

Noah Gottschalk is a humanitarian policy advisor at Oxfam America. He says lockdowns are also affecting agriculture output in developing countries.

GOTTSCHALK: Farmers who are unable to access seeds. Farmers who are unable to bring their goods to market because of restrictions on travel. We see pastoralists, people who care for herd animals who are unable to migrate with their animals…

Access to medical services has also become strained across parts of Africa and Asia. 

Dr. Jon Fielder is the chief executive at African Mission Healthcare and works at a hospital in Kijabe, Kenya. He says because of travel challenges and stretched resources like oxygen and COVID-19 tests, fewer people are visiting for checkups or getting elective procedures. 

FIELDER: Unfortunately, I fear that over time, we’re going to see spikes and in cases of tuberculosis and maternal mortality as a result of COVID, the measures that had to be taken to control it…

Dr. Fielder points out that even in neighboring Tanzania—a country that didn’t lock down—fear of the coronavirus still kept people away from hospitals. 

FIELDER: So it’s almost like well, if you if you locked down, you’re going to interrupt these operations. If you didn’t lock down, you’re also going to interrupt these operations. 

With extremely limited testing in poorer nations, it’s difficult to tell whether lockdowns have succeeded in stopping the spread of COVID-19. Some worry a silent epidemic is raging. But official case counts and deaths are lower than anticipated. 

Dr. Fielder says one reason: populations in poorer countries are very young. 

FIELDER: Only 10 percent of Kenyans are over the age of 50. Things haven’t been as bad as we thought. But a big part of that is because of the steps that were taken. Whether those benefits are going to be outweighed by some of these indirect costs. I don’t think we know the answer to that yet.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.

(AP Photo/Sam Mednick) Girls push children in a cart near the market in the town of Hounde, Tuy Province, in southwestern Burkina Faso on Thursday, June 11, 2020. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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