The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed some 37 million people into extreme poverty, a majority of them in developing countries, a report released on Tuesday by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation shows.
The Goalkeepers 2020 report shows that after 20 straight years of poverty numbers coming down, the disease has reversed the trend.
“The pandemic has pushed almost 37 million people below the 2,000 shillings ($1.9) a day extreme poverty line.
“The poverty line for lower-middle-income countries is $3.20 a day and 68 million people have fallen below that one since last year,’’ says the report.
Apart from fanning poverty, the disease has disrupted food access and exacerbated child and maternal mortality.
“Due to the COVID-19 economic crisis, local food markets are less busy and consumers have less money to buy food, which means small-scale farmers are selling and earning less.
“This is on top of climate stresses that have been getting worse in recent years as well as this year’s locust infestation in East Africa, both of which threaten their livelihoods,’’ says the report.
It added that COVID-19 was causing more women than men to suffer and die in large number because the pandemic has disrupted healthcare before, during and immediately after childbirth.
“Preventable, treatable complications such as severe bleeding, infection and high blood pressure cause the vast majority of maternal deaths.
“Many healthcare workers who used to manage these emergencies, including experienced nurse-midwives, are being diverted to COVID-19 wards,’’ says the report.
According to the report, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis patients are the other groups that are worst affected by the pandemic, according to the report.
“Current evidence shows that people living with HIV are at increased risk of death due to COVID-19.
“Before COVID-19, there were already three million ‘missing cases’ of TB; people with active TB who didn’t know it and were passing the disease to others while going untreated themselves.
“Now, that number will grow even larger as people either cannot go to health facilities for diagnosis or choose not to go to avoid the possibility of exposure to COVID-19,’’ notes the report dubbed COVID-19, A Global Perspective.
But many countries have responded to the crisis well, noted the report, investing $18 trillion in economic stimulus proving that the world understands how massive the COVID-19 crisis is.
“Many developing countries are doing impressive work on digital cash transfers that put money directly in people’s hands.
“According to the World Bank, 131 countries have either implemented new programmes or expanded existing ones since February, reaching 1.1 billion people,’’ said the report.
In Africa, eight members of the West African Economic and Monetary Union allowed people to open accounts by text message or telephone and follow up later to verify their identity in person.
“More than eight million West Africans signed up for accounts while their countries were in lockdown,’’ the report said
In spite of the bleak projections, Bill and Melinda Gates described a path to ending the pandemic and resuming progress toward the Global Goals.
In the report, which they co-author every year, they called on the world to collaborate on the development of diagnostics, vaccines and treatment
Collaboration is also required in manufacturing tests and doses as quickly as possible as well as delivering these tools equitably based on need rather than the ability to pay.
“The response to COVID-19 pandemic has shown us some of the best of humanity like path-breaking innovation, heroic acts by frontline workers and ordinary people doing the best they can for their families, neighbours and communities,’’ the report said.
“This is a shared global crisis that demands a shared global response.’’
The report makes clear that no single country will be able to meet this challenge alone.
Any attempts by one country to protect itself while neglecting others will only prolong the hardships caused by the pandemic.
Developing and manufacturing vaccines will not end the pandemic quickly unless they are delivered equitably.
The couple said in the 1970s, vaccinations reached only about five per cent of the world’s children; by 2019, they reached over 80 per cent and prevented more than two million deaths.
“That progress is now at risk. Because of COVID-19, vaccination rates are going back to 1990s levels,” the report shows.
The report noted that in some cases, these vaccinations are simply delayed, and kids can ‘catch up’ later without much consequences.
However, “some infections, such as measles, spread easily, and even short-term disruptions can lead to immediate increases in illness and death.”
It noted that the most affected countries would need support to make sure that the temporary reversals would not become permanent.
Speaking on COVID-19, the report said the race for a vaccine must be a collective task by all governments.
It said when the vaccine arrives, it should be distributed to countries based on population and their COVID-19 burden and not on income.
The foundation stated that a research by the Northeastern University showed that if wealthy nations buy up the first two billion doses of the vaccine, only 33 per cent of deaths worldwide would be averted.
Meanwhile, if it was distributed based on population, 61 per cent of deaths would be averted.