Many western nations are scrambling to pick up the pieces as the COVID-19 pandemic begins to slow its growth. However, complacency in our relatively safe position would be ill-advised. The west may be getting back up, but the developing world is poised to take the fall. Very few developing nations have begun to feel the weight of the pandemic like many western countries have, yet the pressure is starting to build. Peru, an early adopter of quarantine and lock down procedures, is currently seeing a rapid increase in daily reported cases while many European nations that ignored the pandemic early on, such as Italy, are possibly starting to see a plateau.
The cause of this disparity is rooted deep in many developing states, being tied to poor living conditions and inadequate medical facilities and professionals. Brazil, likely the best equipped developing nation to take on the novel coronavirus, is still sorely unprepared. The country’s hospital capacity is one of the largest in South America, with an average of 2.2 beds per 1,000 people, but this is frankly not enough. Italy, who continues to see shortages in hospital space, has a considerably larger capacity of 3.4 beds per 1,000 people. The continent of Africa is also in a particularly dangerous position if struck by the virus. Ethiopia has a reported 0.3 hospital beds per 1,000 people and a concerning 0.1 physician for every 1,000 people. This is coupled with the large population density of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, being a reported 36,659 people per square kilometer.
A lack of adequate medical care combined with high population density is a breeding ground for disease, and with a virus that spreads through person to person contact, this could prove fatal to major cities in developing countries. For an example of this, we don’t need to look far. New York City has a population density of 10,712 people per square kilometer and is by far the most affected city in the U.S., with a reported 138,435 cases and 9,944 deaths at the time of writing. New York City has less than a third of the population density of Addis Ababa and a considerably more prepared and developed healthcare system, demonstrating the precarious situation that many developing states are in. They want to try and prepare for the worst, but they have neither the resources nor the manpower to do so.
The U.S. does have those resources. The country is in a dire situation of its own, but with the rate of infection slowing to more manageable numbers in many states, much of the country may have already seen the worst of the virus. As the U.S. begins to recover, we need to start looking at what we can do to help the rest of the world.
With the Trump administration pulling funding from the World Health Organization (WHO), arguably the best equipped nongovernmental organization to tackle COVID-19 in developing states, we have a responsibility to assist those we have impacted. The U.S. has reduced its involvement in international cooperation in the past four years, but their response to this global pandemic could work to salvage its reputation with the international community. That being said, simple financial assistance to the aforementioned developing nations will not be enough. The U.S. needs to take a hands-on approach and contribute both medical resources and professional help in order to remedy the dire absence of general medical care in many of these developing states. The U.S. should take action in a similar way as Cuba, who has been offering medical assistance to developing and developed countries alike and has sent doctors and medical equipment across the globe.
The U.S. needs to take action soon. We have the medical resources to mobilize and address the virus in the developing world like no other country can. The U.S. is poised to either bolster or continue to weaken its respected position on the global stage and its actions going forward will determine whether or not it will continue its commitment to internationalism.