Worst virus fears re­al­ized in poor or war-torn coun­tries

Iran Daily - - Society -

For months, ex­perts have warned of a po­ten­tial night­mare sce­nario: Af­ter over­whelm­ing health sys­tems in some of the world’s wealth­i­est re­gions, the coro­n­avirus gains a foothold in poor or war-torn coun­tries ill-equipped to con­tain it and sweeps through the pop­u­la­tion.

Now some of those fears are be­ing re­al­ized, The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

In south­ern Ye­men, health work­ers are leav­ing their posts en masse be­cause of a lack of pro­tec­tive equip­ment, and some hos­pi­tals are turn­ing away pa­tients strug­gling to breathe. In Su­dan’s war-rav­aged Dar­fur Re­gion, where there is lit­tle test­ing ca­pac­ity, a mys­te­ri­ous ill­ness re­sem­bling COVID-19 is spread­ing through camps for the in­ter­nally dis­placed.

Cases are soar­ing in In­dia and Pak­istan, to­gether home to more than 1.5 bil­lion peo­ple and where au­thor­i­ties say na­tion­wide lock­downs are no longer an op­tion be­cause of high poverty.

In Latin Amer­ica, Brazil has a con­firmed caseload and death count sec­ond only to the United States, and its leader is un­will­ing to take steps to stem the spread of the virus. Alarm­ing es­ca­la­tions are un­fold­ing in Peru, Chile, Ecuador and Panama, even af­ter they im­posed early lock­downs.

The first re­ports of dis­ar­ray are also emerg­ing from hos­pi­tals in South Africa, which has its con­ti­nent’s most de­vel­oped econ­omy. Sick pa­tients are ly­ing on beds in cor­ri­dors as one hos­pi­tal runs out of space. At another, an emer­gency morgue was needed to hold more than 700 bod­ies.

“We are reap­ing the whirl­wind now,” said Fran­cois Ven­ter, a South African health ex­pert at the Univer­sity of Witswa­ter­srand in Jo­han­nes­burg.

World­wide, there are 10 mil­lion con­firmed cases and over 500,000 re­ported deaths, ac­cord­ing to a tally by Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity of gov­ern­ment re­ports. Ex­perts say both those num­bers are se­ri­ous un­der­counts of the true toll of the pan­demic, due to lim­ited test­ing and missed mild cases.

South Africa has more than a third of Africa’s con­firmed cases of COVID-19. It’s ahead of other African coun­tries in the pan­demic time­line and ap­proach­ing its peak. If its fa­cil­i­ties break un­der the strain, it will be a grim fore­warn­ing be­cause South Africa’s health sys­tem is re­puted to be the con­ti­nent’s best.

Most poor coun­tries took ac­tion early on. Some, like Uganda, which al­ready had a so­phis­ti­cated de­tec­tion sys­tem built up dur­ing its years­long bat­tle with vi­ral hem­or­rhagic fever, have thus far been ar­guably more suc­cess­ful than the US and other wealthy coun­tries in bat­tling coro­n­avirus.

But since the be­gin­ning of the pan­demic, poor and con­flict-rav­aged coun­tries have gen­er­ally been at a ma­jor disad­van­tage, and they re­main so.

The global scram­ble for pro­tec­tive equip­ment sent prices soar­ing. Test­ing kits have also been hard to come by. Track­ing and quar­an­tin­ing pa­tients re­quires large num­bers of health work­ers.

“It’s all a domino ef­fect,” said Kate White, head of emer­gen­cies for Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders. “When­ever you have coun­tries that are eco­nom­i­cally not as well off as oth­ers, then they will be ad­versely af­fected.”

Global health ex­perts say test­ing is key, but months into the pan­demic, few de­vel­op­ing coun­tries can keep car­ry­ing out the tens of thou­sands of tests ev­ery week that are needed to de­tect and con­tain out­breaks.

“The ma­jor­ity of the places that we work in are not able to have that level of test­ing ca­pac­ity, and that’s the level that you need to be able to get things re­ally un­der con­trol,” White said.

South Africa leads Africa in test­ing, but an ini­tially promis­ing pro­gram has now been over­run in Cape Town, which alone has more re­ported cases than any other African coun­try ex­cept Egypt. Crit­i­cal short­ages of kits have forced city of­fi­cials to aban­don test­ing any­one for un­der 55 un­less they have a se­ri­ous health con­di­tion or are in a hos­pi­tal.

Ven­ter said a Cape Town-like surge could eas­ily play out next in “the big cities of Nige­ria, Congo, Kenya,” and they “do not have the health re­sources that we do.”

Lock­downs are likely the most ef­fec­tive safe­guard, but they have ex­acted a heavy toll even on mid­dle-class fam­i­lies in Europe and North Amer­ica, and are eco­nom­i­cally dev­as­tat­ing in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

In­dia’s lock­down, the world’s largest, caused count­less migrant work­ers in ma­jor cities to lose their jobs overnight. Fear­ing hunger, thou­sands took to the high­ways by foot to re­turn to their home vil­lages, and many were killed in traf­fic ac­ci­dents or died from de­hy­dra­tion.

Read the full ar­ti­cle on: www.irandai­ly­on­line.ir/news/270790.html

A res­i­dent is be­ing tested for COVID-19 in Jo­han­nes­burg, South Africa. JEROME DE­LAY/AP

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