Covid pushed 31 million in deep poverty: report


A street family boy takes a nap under the scorching sun inside the roundabout of Landhies Road, Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

In just a year, the effects of Covid-19 have pushed 31 million people globally, into extreme poverty.

The effects have been disproportionate in sub-Saharan Africa, which has borne the brunt of the pandemic and as a result 26.6 million people are now in extreme poverty, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation states in its 2021 Goalkeepers report, published yesterday.

The report says the pandemic has exposed huge gaps in healthcare, specifically access to life-saving vaccines, citing California (US), which has administered the same number of vaccine doses as Africa, whose population is 30 times that of the US state.

California with a population of 39.5 million had administered 42 million vaccine doses while Africa with a population of 1.3 billion had only administered 48 million shots.

As we write this, more than 80 per cent of all Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in high- and upper-middle-income countries.

“The population of the entire continent of Africa is more than 30 times that of the state of California. But through the first half of 2021, they’d each administered roughly the same number of vaccines,” the report says.

But the disparities extend further to recovery of the economies.

“By next year, for example, 90 per cent of advanced economies are expected to regain pre-pandemic per capita income levels, while only a third of low- and middle-income economies are expected to do the same,” it says.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation notes that Africa is getting the short end of the stick.

They observe that Covid-19 vaccine access is strongly correlated with vaccine R&D and manufacturing capability.

Because of that, Latin America, Asia, and Africa are being hit particularly hard by the delta variant.

“Africa, in particular, has had difficulty accessing the doses. The continent—home to 17 per cent of the world’s population—has less than 1 per cent of the world’s vaccine manufacturing capabilities,” the report notes.

But it is not all grim for Africa.

The report notes the wins in Africa, specifically with establishment of genomic surveillance which contributed in the identification of the coronavirus beta variant which emerged in South Africa.

“And what’s particularly exciting about Africa’s genomic sequencing network is that the technology works for any pathogen: If the continent is able to keep building the network, it will soon be doing its own disease tracking for long-standing viruses like flu, measles, and polio,” the report states.

Across the world, there are growing gaps in gender, education, and more children are missing vaccines.

In both high- and low-income countries, women have been harder hit than men by the global recession triggered by the pandemic.

“Although men are 70 per cent more likely to die from Covid-19, women continue to be disproportionately affected by the economic and social impacts of the pandemic: This year, women’s employment globally is expected to remain 13 million jobs below the 2019 level—while men’s employment is largely expected to recover to pre-pandemic rates,” the report said.

One of the biggest changes has been in global routine childhood vaccination where progress has slid back to rates last seen in 2005.

The report says more than 30 million children around the world missed their vaccinations between the start of the pandemic and when health services began to recover in the second half of 2020.

“It’s possible that many of these children will never catch up on doses,” the report surmises.

But some of the shocks expected were alleviated by people stepping up and doing more, for instance, the fight against malaria.

Bill and Melinda Gates observe that last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) forecasted severe disruptions to essential malaria prevention efforts that could have set progress back 10 years—and result in an additional 200,000 deaths from a preventable disease.

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