Coronavirus: the great leveller?

It is true to say the COVID-19 virus does not discriminate.


People succumb to the infection in marketplaces, refugee camps, hospitals, parliaments and royal palaces. Yet their chances of survival are not the same. COVID-19 clearly highlights the impact of poverty and the massive inequalities of our world. As the virus takes hold in poorer communities around the world, including those where EMMS International works, poverty puts people at a greater risk. A greater risk of contracting the coronavirus and, tragically, of dying as a result.

How easy is it to observe simple key prevention measures to protect materially poor communities?

Handwashing

Regular and thorough handwashing is a key tenet of coronavirus prevention. All that’s needed is access to clean water and soap, yet these are out of reach for many people. In rural Bihar, India, only 1.7% of households have access to piped water. The vast majority of India’s poorest state rely on pumps and other water sources. Washing your hands effectively and more frequently will mean more laborious trips to gather water, a job usually undertaken by women and girls.

The shelves of Malawian stores have not run out of soap. The limited supply of hand sanitizer was quickly bought up by the wealthier few, but soap remains in good supply because it is simply too expensive for many. More than half of the people in Malawi live on less than £1.50 per day – considering the cost of living, including the high cost of staple foods, even 10p for a basic bar of soap is out of reach.

Rural communities need practical support to understand and implement effective handwashing as part of disease prevention. EMMS International’s partners are encouraging more people to adopt effective handwashing practices but desperately need money to buy enough essential supplies.

Social Distancing

Observing social distance is a challenge and a sacrifice to all of us. However, rural communities in India, Malawi and Nepal function through close relationships and interdependence. It is a huge cultural wrench to live apart, if that were even possible. Multiple generations of families live in small, poorly ventilated homes and rely upon close relationships and contact with extended family for their daily needs.

Stockpiling has plagued our UK supermarkets and left shelves empty of essentials. Mobile markets are a core of Malawi’s informal economy and people’s daily life. Individuals and families rely upon them for income day to day, and for their daily needs. Especially those who are living hand to mouth. Coronavirus prevention measures have called for their closure. There are no savings to fall back on, no stockpiled store cupboards and few other options for buying life’s essentials. As such, the markets continue for now.


Malawi is approaching its maize harvest, an event upon which the security of the nation’s economy rests. The government may be days away from implementing a national lockdown and will have to consider how key industries continue to prevent people being pushed deeper into poverty.

Many rural Nepalis rely upon work overseas to support their families. Border closures and lockdowns are preventing them from finding work or returning home. Families are left without their loved ones and this essential income.

Digital connectedness and a measure of financial security are resources that are simply not available to poor rural communities. People have no choice but to put their lives at risk to continue providing for their families.

Personal Protective Equipment

Essential supplies for our frontline health workers have rightly been a primary concern during this crisis. Yet this is a global crisis and a situation where supplies go to those with more money and influence, leaving health services in resource poor settings gravely ill-equipped.

Well-developed health systems have influence with suppliers, control of supply chains, ability to purchase in bulk and emergency supplies stored in warehouses before crises hit. Developing health systems are already consumed with keeping sufficient stock of basic medication and supplies to allow for daily operation, with little to no buffer for emergency situations.

Recovery of those hardest hit by coronavirus relies on access to intensive care facilities and, in particular, ventilators. Malawi has 25 ICU beds and seven ventilators for 18 million people. While the UK has purchased 10,000 ventilators in one order alone, the race is on for countries like Malawi, India and Nepal to scale up their health facilities dramatically in preparation for the virus. The support they receive from international governments and institutions will be telling of the quality of our partnerships and the integrity of our development agendas.

Every Life Matters

There are significant challenges to tackling the coronavirus among poorer communities in our world. We must find ways to overcome these if we are to show that every life matters. We can all play a part - individuals, organisations and governments – in addressing the gaping inequalities that this virus is making plain to the world.

“Unequal weights and unequal measures are both alike an abomination to the Lord.” (Proverbs 20:10) This is not an equal fight. But it could be more equal if we give those on the frontline of stopping coronavirus in poorer countries more of the resources they need. EMMS International’s emergency appeal hopes to help do just this.

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