April 2

When the Pandemic Hits the Most Vulnerable

By Robert Malley and Richard Malley

Imagine if virtually everything about the United States’ ongoing response to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, goes wrong. That test kit shortages persist for months. That the country utterly fails to bolster the capacity of the hospitals and intensive care units and expand the supply of protective facemasks, gloves, and ventilators. That an already stretched health system proves incapable of tracing, isolation, and quarantine. That ordinary citizens fail to separate themselves from one another and most businesses stay open.

Now, imagine all of that, only several orders of magnitude worse. For any number of developing countries, such a scenario is not a matter of speculation. It’s a likely future, if not an imminent reality.

The novel coronavirus pandemic began mainly in developed countries theoretically better equipped to deal with its repercussions—whether China, South Korea, Singapore, or Italy. Although they, too, are struggling to cope, these nations enjoy relative affluence, strong institutions and political systems, and fairly effective medical systems by global standards. Were anything approximating what has hit those nations to afflict poorer or conflict-ridden ones, the effect could be crushing. That moment, unfortunately, may not be too far off: India, Pakistan, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, Nigeria, and South Africa each have hundreds, sometimes thousands, of cases. And as the experience of several current COVID-19 hot spots has shown, only a narrow gap can separate trickle from flood.

Photo courtesy of Patrick Hendry.

Source: Foreign Affairs (link opens in a new window)