Lockdowns are being championed as a way to help contain the coronavirus, but experts warn this will not be easily achieved in developing countries, where crowded cities and slums could see the virus spread “like fire.”
Questions over how the world’s poorest will survive the coronavirus pandemic surged Wednesday, a day after India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a 21-day lockdown of its population of 1.3 billion people. Around 50 million Indians are thought to be living in extreme poverty.
“It’s a disease that makes disparity seem more obvious than any other,” Dr. Angela Chaudhuri, director of the nonprofit Swasti Health Catalyst, which works in slums and rural poor communities across India, told NBC News in a telephone interview. “We’re saying wash your hands with soap and water or sanitizers and keep at a distance — none of these are available in the slums.” “If there is just one case, it’s going to be a flash fire,” Chaudhuri said, but the economic and social repercussions for the poor will be severe in a nation of stark wealth disparities.
It is estimated that with the clampdown in India, around a third of the world’s population is living under some form of lockdown. But across the world, for millions living in shantytowns with access to only the most basic sanitation, there is no way to self-isolate.
“The need of the hour as countries like India, the Philippines and now parts of Africa enter a lockdown phase is to consider these kinds of scenarios and maybe build temporary quarantine facilities for those living in shantytowns,” said Dr. Priya Balasubramaniam, a senior public health scientist for the Public Health Foundation of India.