Governments and health systems in wealthy nations are struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting the poorest countries may be hit far harder if the virus gains a foothold there, a top U.N. official warned.
Mami Mizutori, head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR), said even in developed countries, health services were under stress and did not have enough equipment to treat people in need as the numbers infected rose rapidly.
“It is easily imaginable that if this becomes the case in a country where the health system is not as sophisticated, then that could lead to possibly higher mortality,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Geneva.
People living in poverty and lacking health insurance or secure employment cannot afford to be sick or miss work, she said, pointing to the virus as an “equity issue”.
If coronavirus expanded in poor countries, the economic impact on individuals would likely be greater as economic losses would be a bigger share of gross domestic product, she added.
The slower spread of the virus to Africa, however, may have bought the continent valuable time to take preventive measures. Some African countries, like Rwanda and Uganda, are implementing strict controls at airports as well as simple hygiene practices such as setting up public sinks to wash hands.