Nations with weak healthcare systems need support
Solidarity is the key word at this time of war launched by the COVID-19 coronavirus against humanity. Not a day passes by without one hearing about new cases of COVID-19 infection in one country or the other. Prevailing uncertainty about when and how normalcy could return compounds global worry. But one should never forget that the present challenge could be surmounted through united, sustained and effective measures. The outbreak has infected more than 200,000 people and killed nearly 9,000, scorching through populations across the globe after emerging in China late last year. While Europe has become the centre of the battle against the virus, closing borders and sequestering millions of people in their homes, the challenge faced by developing nations with fragile healthcare systems should not be ignored. Warning by UN experts that some three billion people lack even the most basic weapons to protect themselves: soap and running water — is a matter of huge concern. Three billion is a huge number and constitutes almost half of the world population. Some 1.8 billion people globally also live in homelessness and grossly inadequate housing, often in overcrowded conditions, lacking access to water and sanitation – making them particularly vulnerable. Countries across Africa and Asia are taking the right measures by heavily restricting travel, imposing quarantines and shutting schools, but it is hugely disheartening that one of the most fundamental practices individuals can adopt to shield themselves from COVID-19 — thorough hand washing — remains inaccessible for many millions.
As per Sam Godfrey, Unicef chief of water and sanitation in east and southern Africa, communities lack easily accessible running water and are unable to buy soap or do not realise its vital role in preventing illness. With the first infections in the region often coming from those who have travelled internationally, Godfrey has aptly described the outbreak as “almost like a rich man’s disease for Africa, which, of course, will end up with the poor man suffering the most”. In sub-Saharan Africa, 63 per cent of people in urban areas — 258 million people — lack access to hand washing, according to the Unicef figures. In central and south Asia this figure is 22 per cent, or 153 million people. Benevolence is the need of the hour and the UAE has been setting a glorious example on this front. While showing superb efficiency in adopting preventive measures to limit the spread of coronavirus at the domestic level, the UAE also helped evacuate Arab students stranded in Wuhan, China, and sent an aid flight to Iran to support the fight against the virus. The UAE has also facilitated the evacuation of 80 individuals from Iran, among them 74 South Korean nationals residing there, in addition to 6 Iranian family members, in response to a request by the South Korean Government. Such compassionate actions prompted Director-General of the World Health Organisation Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to tweet: “Thanks #UAE and @MohamedBinZayed for your continuing support to the #COVID19 response.” People have a major role to play and the community should follow and commit to the instructions and procedures of relevant authorities that aim to counter the virus. As pointed out by Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “To suppress and control epidemics, countries must isolate, test, treat and trace. Otherwise transmission chains can continue at a low level, then resurge once physical distancing measures are lifted.”