Nicholas was in South Africa completing a human rights law internship when COVID-19 hit. He learned of the humanitarian crises that are being exacerbated beyond comprehension in overseas communities that don’t have resources to respond to this pandemic effectively. Here’s what Nicholas thinks you need to know and what we can all do to help.
COVID-19 has made it significantly harder to spend time with friends and loved ones, work and retain employment, travel, partake in our favourite activities like going to the cinema, sporting and music events, as well as enjoy the natural world.
Of course, we have also become more health-conscious and concerned for the welfare and safety of those who are suffering: grandparents who are particularly susceptible; friends who have been laid off from work; frontline nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals who are willing to endanger themselves for the good of others.
This catastrophic episode has left many of us with legitimate complaints about the risks to our health, and the restrictive (but necessary) lockdown measures implemented to halt the spread of the virus. Yet it has been heartening to see the caring, compassionate responses of many. As author Amit Ray has said, “In every crisis, doubt or confusion, take the higher path – the path of compassion, courage, understanding and love”.
Australians have contributed by staying home, donating groceries to foodbanks, rallying for government assistance to help the underprivileged, and fundraising for health services, hospitals, and personal protective equipment (PPE). Businesses are offering free or discounted goods and services for frontline health workers.
In the United Kingdom (UK), the English Premier League football competition donated 20 million GBP (39 million AUD) to the National Health Service – essentially Britain’s Medicare. Meanwhile, pop superstar Taylor Swift gave fans money to ameliorate their financial difficulties.
A common or even natural reaction in times of crisis is to look inward, to focus on your own problems and those of your family. Sometimes this means we neglect or forget what we can to make the lives of others better. With this in mind, beneficent action is commendable during this pandemic.
Much of this goodwill and charity, however, seems to be focused within already wealthy countries. We are primarily donating and giving to causes, organisations and people in Australia, the UK, the United States and countries in Europe. By and large, these countries have relatively robust health care and social security systems and implemented economic stimuluses to help citizens.
Thus far, the pandemic has galvanised the international community. The US has provided South Africa nearly three million dollars in aid to deal with the virus. Germany also committed to supporting South Africa’s efforts to minimise, and hopefully eliminate, the pandemic.
In many countries, particularly those across Africa, parts of Asia, and in war-torn regions of the Middle East, the coronavirus threatens to utterly devastate communities, families, and lives. Governments simply lack the resources to enact essential programs of support, leaving vulnerable people to fend for themselves during a time of grave economic depression. On average, the majority of people in Niger live on $3.20 USD a day. And things are only going to get worse than that. In addition, diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and hepatitis remain a serious problem in Niger, while Boko Haram militants continue to launch deadly attacks on civilians.
From a health perspective, the poor stand the most exposed to the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The principle of “social distancing” cannot be adequately practised in poor areas – like the slums in the Philippines – because there, one or two-room dwellings house multiple people. PPE and hand sanitisers are in short supply, and for many, are unaffordable luxuries.
South Sudan has 24 intensive care beds for a population of over 12 million people. That’s one bed per 500,000 people. The Central African Republic has three ventilators in a nation of about six million people. That’s one ventilator per two million people.
The damage the coronavirus pandemic could wreak on poor and disadvantaged communities around the world is truly horrifying. So what can we do?
By no means is looking out for your own family, community or country morally questionable. In many ways, that’s what we’re supposed to do. But the magnitude of this health, economic, humanitarian emergency calls for us to do something more. It requires us not to forget those facing existential hardship, and beyond that, to do what’s within our control to mitigate the harm this virus has, and will, cause.
We can donate to effective charities working in the most disadvantaged parts of the world, host our own fundraisers, raise awareness of these massive issues among our communities and social media channels, and even just spare a thought for the people hardest-hit by COVID-19. Action must be taken now and for many years to come at all levels – individually, collectively, from governments, internationally and of course collaboratively – to abate one of the most pressing crises of our times, for those who have the least power to stop it.