(This is a response to the Economist article, “The coronavirus could devastate poor countries: It is in the rich world’s self-interest to help” dated March 26th 2020.)
Never has the “poor-rich” dichotomy been as irrelevant as it is now. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a sort of levelling where wealth does not correspond quite as linearly to better health outcomes as previously perceived. The hardest hit areas are those of the rich : New York, USA is the world’s richest city, and Lombardy, Italy has one of the highest per capita income in Europe. Both these regions have the highest rates of the corona virus in the world today.
It is the use of this “poor-rich” dichotomy when framing the global state of the corona pandemic that is erroneous. Firstly, such a dichotomy does not exist. Economists such as Jeffery Sachs and Hans Rosling have termed this simplistic dichotomy as outdated, while in 2015 the World Bank declared it irrelevant.
Secondly, the demand for additional financial support has grown for both “rich” and “poor” countries, with both seeking loans to combat the effects of the pandemic. The USA’s 2 trillion dollar relief package was enacted the same week as Ghana’s I billion Ghanaian Cedis package ( USD 173 million). Thus, the implication in the article that rich countries need to help poor ones overlooks that rich countries are also seeking help, and for themselves. Global South countries are not sitting on their laurels waiting for aid from the rich but are, just like their Euro-American counterparts, seeking and implementing social, economic and cultural responses. To put it crudely, we are all in this pit-latrine together.
Lastly, it serves little purpose to frame solutions to the pandemic on a rich/poor plane, yet other non-economic factors have had greater success in controlling the spread and impact of COVID-19. For example, epidemiologically, one cannot model how the disease will spread in a country like Kenya without factoring in social, demographic and even climate data as higher tropical temperatures (24–33 degrees centigrade) as compared to winter spring temperatures(10–20 degrees centigrade ) reduce COVID 19 transmission rates by at least 20%. Socially, the misappropriate manner in which the full lockdown was implemented in India for example, led to deaths due to starvation yet the country had secured enough financial aid to feed its vulnerable population for the 21-day lockdown.
COVID-19 is thus far the greatest equaliser of the 21st century. It is the most ferocious accelerator of the information age. This new world, where data is gold, implores us to relinquish these colonial tropes of “them” and “us” and realise the world has never been flatter. For example, knowledge on malaria, its effects and its treatment hails from “poor countries” given that they have studied, treated and been able to cure it. Though still under investigation, this knowledge could be beneficial in mitigating COVID-19. Moreover, Cuba recently sent some of its doctors to Italy to combat COVID-19, yet based on this dichotomy, Cuba would be “”poor” and Italy ‘’rich”.
Indeed, numbers are projected to rise significantly in the Global South. And, the infrastructure and medical personnel numbers largely pale in comparison to the Global North. Nonetheless, it is important to state that the solutions deployed in the ”poor countries” will not necessarily emerge from the “rich ones”. COVID-19 surfaces that we need to wave goodbye to irrelevant dichotomies and hello to equal collaboration and global knowledge-exchange in this new era.