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Developing countries have handled novel coronavirus better than the U.S.
  ·  2020-06-11  ·   Source: HuffPost

Vietnam set up makeshift testing sites early in the coronavirus pandemic. Despite having far fewer resources than the United States and sharing a border with China, the country has not recorded any COVID-19 deaths (XINHUA)

The novel coronavirus didn’t hit wealthy countries first, but it hit them hard. So far, nearly four out of five global COVID-19 deaths have occurred in developed nations. The United States, Italy, Spain, France and the United Kingdom contain just 7.5 percent of the world’s population - and two-thirds of its coronavirus death toll.  

While the failures of the developed world to contain the virus have been well-documented, the successes of newly industrialized or developing countries have gone mostly unnoticed. 

Last month, the World Bank reported that developing countries make up 85 percent of the global population but account for just 21 percent of COVID-19 deaths. In late May, the entire region of West Africa - which has a greater population than the United States - had recorded just 654 COVID-19 deaths, a figure some Western countries were racking up every day. 

So what explains the strikingly lower death tolls in developing countries? Below are views of some experts: 

“We have a problem talking about the policy successes of developing countries, which are considerable. The story of the developing world in recent decades has been falling rates of violence and government services reaching more people. That story has been overlooked because no one wants to tell it.” 

“One of the best-kept secrets about developing country governments is that they do a far better job of providing public services than Western governments did when they were at the same income level.” 

Charles Kenny, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development  

“We’ve managed to set politics aside and put solidarity and togetherness first. We’ve seen community health workers and women’s groups going into communities and telling them about the reality of the pandemic. It was amazing how quickly you saw people wearing masks. This solidarity and resilience is one of the reasons why the disaster people were predicting hasn’t happened.” 

Aminatou Sar, the Senegal program director for PATH, an international public health nonprofit 

“Many developing countries have higher levels of social trust. We often talk about ‘government resources’ without thinking about the broader range of resources that each country has. People who trust each other are going to be more willing to amplify the government’s efforts to contain an infectious disease. That’s an incredibly powerful resource.” 

Brigitte Seim, a University of North Carolina professor who conducts research in Malawi and Zambia 

“Vietnam experienced SARS and the avian influenza epidemic. The public health system has been investing in preparedness for the past 10 years. We applied an approach that we know works. We’re already living in the new normal.” 

Nhu Nguyen, PATH’s global health securities lead in Vietnam 

Developing countries’ actions against COVID-19: 

In January, while Trump was assuring Americans that the few known cases would soon fall to zero, Senegal was closing its borders, initiating contact tracing and committing to provide a hospital bed to every COVID-19 patient.  

In February, as Western European leaders allowed the virus to spread at mass gatherings, Mongolia canceled its national lunar new year celebrations and set up a task force with more than 800 staff members.  

In March, as the United States distributed meager social benefits and bailed out corporations, the Cook Islands, a small country with incomes roughly on par with Sri Lanka, devised a welfare package worth 11 percent of its gross domestic product that included cash payments to older adults and a three-month waiver of electricity bills for every household. 

Senegal has a mostly informal economy, making quarantines both logistically difficult and economically devastating. The entire country had just 86 intensive care unit beds at the start of the pandemic. Nevertheless, within weeks of the global outbreak, local officials had established 78 field offices, dispatched contact tracing teams and allocated a $160 million response budget. 

Trinidad and Tobago shut down its economy the day after recording its first case. Rwanda halted all commercial flights five days after detecting the virus. Albania, a Balkan country with so little hospital capacity that a member of parliament set up a GoFundMe account to buy ventilators, has deep economic ties to Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the virus. The country canceled all travel to Italy and imposed one of Europe’s strictest quarantines, imposing large fines and even jail time for citizens who left their homes. The government shut down public transit, banned gatherings of more than two people and forced residents to apply for permission to use their own cars. 

Rather than try to reinvent the wheel, Vietnam simply executed tested advice from local and international experts: Quarantine people at risk; trace positive patients; advise citizens to wash their hands, and wear masks in public. 

South Africa dispatched more than 28,000 health care workers to check symptoms and spread information door to door. Albania launched an entire TV channel dedicated to educating the public about the virus. Ghana elevated its testing rate by combining samples from multiple patients and following up with individual tests only if the batch came back positive. 

An edited except of an article originally published on HuffPost 

Copyedited by Madhusudan Chaubey 

Comments to linan@bjreview.com  

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