COVID-19 Antiviral Pill
The developing world is fighting for greater access to lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. If regulatory bodies approve it, a new COVID-19 antiviral pill called molnupiravir could bring relief in the next year because it would be affordable, easy to distribute and easy to administer. Approval is all but guaranteed, however, several NGOs and manufacturers are jumping into high gear to help ensure equitable access to the drug throughout the world.

The Current Situation

No nation, no matter how wealthy, is exempt from the heartache and struggle that COVID-19 brought. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 has led to the deaths of more than five million people worldwide. In addition to the many lives lost, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has also left many survivors with long-lasting negative health effects. Then, there is the economic toll — experts consider the global economic contraction that the pandemic caused to be the most severe since the aftermath of World War II.

Now, nearly a year after the arrival to the market of the first COVID-19 vaccines, the developed world is wondering if the end is near — if the world can get back to a pre-pandemic sense of normal. However, in the developing world, the end does not appear to be near because many developing countries have yet to gain adequate access to vaccines. For instance, in September 2021, WHO Chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that “more than 5.7 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered globally, but only 2% of them in Africa.” Africa, however, makes up nearly 16% of the global population, making it clear that the push for vaccine equity must continue.

However, the developing world is now finding some hope in a COVID-19 antiviral pill that a partnership between Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics brought to market. Researchers invented the drug, called molnupiravir, at Emory University with research funding from the U.S. government. In the Phase 3 clinical study, the pill proved efficient in reducing risks of hospitalization and death by 50% in at-risk individuals when administered before symptoms increase in severity. Following these promising outcomes, Merck has applied for Emergency Use Authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) so that it can bring this promising COVID-19 antiviral pill to the market as soon as possible.

3 Advantages of Molnupiravir for the Developing World

  1. Affordability. Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics have agreed to license the production of their COVID-19 antiviral pill to several generic drug manufacturers in India. In addition, they have signed a royalty-free licensing agreement with the United Nations-backed Medicines Patent Pool (MPP). The agreement remains valid so long as WHO classifies COVID-19 as a global public health emergency. MPP will sublicense production of the molnupiravir to qualifying generic drug manufacturers in the developing world. In turn, those manufacturers will be free to market the drug to a collection of 105 low- to middle-income countries for around $20 per five-day course of treatment. For reference, in its initial purchase agreement for the drug, the U.S. government agreed to pay about 35 times as much per treatment.
  2. Ease of Distribution. Depending on the brand, COVID-19 vaccines require either freezing or refrigeration up until the time of administration. The Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine even requires sub-zero freezing at -80℃ to -60℃, thus requiring specialized sub-zero freezers. These cold storage requirements for vaccines, while not insurmountable, do provide logistics challenges for the delivery of vaccines in rural areas of low-to-middle-income countries (LMICs). On the other hand, molnupiravir is shelf-stable, meaning its attributes allow for safe storage at room temperature. This element will make distribution much easier in LMICs with limited cold storage facilities.
  3. Ease of Administration. Even in high-income countries, there are many accounts of hospitals stretching themselves dangerously thin on resources because of aggressive surges in infections. The limited clinical capacity of LMICs means that the ideal COVID-19 therapeutic would allow for home-based patient administration instead of clinical administration. Because molnupiravir is an oral medication that is shelf-stable, it would meet this need.

Improving Production Capacity

There is some concern that ongoing COVID-19-induced supply chain disruptions could interfere with the mass global production capacity of molnupiravir should the disruptions result in inadequate supplies of the base ingredients needed for manufacture. For its part, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has pledged $120 million to help ensure equitable distribution of molnupiravir. Part of the initiative is to fund research to look into the most efficient and streamlined manufacturing methods to maximize the production capacity of the drug. These efforts bring hope that production capacity goals will meet their mark. Only time will tell, but for many in the developing world, molnupiravir may bring COVID-19 relief before vaccines do.

– Jeramiah Jordan
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Covid -19 in Malawi
Malawi, a landlocked southeastern nation in Africa, faces hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic. As of October 2021, COVID-19 in Malawi say a rise in over 61,700 COVID-19 cases and over 2,200 deaths. The biggest spike that Malawi experienced began on January 25, 2021, with a seven-week average case count of 994. The cases diminished significantly by September 2021, with most 7-week average counts bordering 40 cases. Already deep in poverty, Malawians certainly did not benefit from imposed lockdowns and a rising unemployment rate.

Effects on Poverty

Malawi continues to be one of the poorest countries in the world. It ranks 222 of 225 countries in terms of the greatest GDP per capita, with 526.93 in December 2020. Additionally, Malawi’s poverty rates can be attributed to its economy, which employs about 80% of the population in the agricultural sector. The COVID-19 pandemic greatly affected most urban areas and forced services and businesses to terminate.

The last demographic statistics of Malawi dates back to 2016 and recorded a poverty rate of 69.2%, which increased from the previous statistic of 62.4% in 1997. This means that this population lives with an income averaging below the extreme poverty line of $1.90 per day. Though no definitive statistics of Malawi’s current poverty rate exist, experts estimate it to be near or greater than the last census of 69.2% due to the unemployment rates caused by COVID-19. The unemployment rate of Malawi increased from 5.6% in 2019 to 6% in 2020, accounting for the jobs terminated by COVID-19.

Economic Development

As mentioned previously, the agriculture business in Malawi accounts for 80% of jobs. However, agricultural production is not necessarily abundant. By September 2020, over 2.6 million Malawians suffered food shortages from a combination of COVID-19 and weather complications.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Malawi experienced economic development with 3.5% economic growth in 2018 and 4.4% in 2019. The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS) was created in 2017 to aid Malawi in several different sectors, including industry, health and poverty. However, the pandemic abruptly paused the project, and some fear that the effects of COVID-19 in Malawi will reverse the progress made in previous years. The Malawi Economic Monitor (MEM) predicts long-term and widespread negative effects from the pandemic, even though measures such as the Emergency Liquidity Assistance should mitigate some of the damage. If the effects do not worsen by the end of COVID-19 in Malawi, the nation will likely be able to reconstruct its economy with the 5-year installment plans within the MGDS.

Social Conditions

One of the greatest worldwide challenges of the pandemic continues to be providing schooling for students at home. With Malawi’s poor standards for education, where only 8% of students finish secondary school, the pandemic posed a great challenge. In a survey of 100 parents of school-attending children, 86% reported that they had no contact with any teachers or the school throughout the lockdown. Additionally, there is a lack of school materials in Malawi, making learning at home even more difficult.

Another social issue due to COVID-19 in Malawi is the rise in suicide rates. The lack of professional services available for mental health in Malawi resulted in drastically increased suicide rates. In 2020, the Malawi police service reported an increase of up to 57% during the pandemic. Additionally, statistics found that 92% of suicides in Malawi during this period were men, with 8% being women. Certain psychologists associate this with the loss of jobs and rising poverty levels in Malawi. These struggles place intense pressure on the men of a household to provide for their family during drastic times.

All Is Not Lost

Though it may seem like the current conditions in Malawi are beyond hope, there is still a chance that Malawi can recover from the pandemic and return to its course of economic improvement. With COVID-19 cases lowering, Malawi may be seeing the end of the pandemic. Also, the implementation of The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy will help with Malawi’s economic reset and assist the country in its recovery.

– Andra Fofuca
Photo: Wikimedia

 

Decreasing Poverty

With all the bad news about the pandemic over the past eighteen months, it’s easy to get dispirited about the future of the world. And indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many to slide into poverty across the globe. However, over the past half-century, the world has achieved miracles in decreasing poverty. The pandemic’s setbacks come nowhere near to erasing the progress of past years.

Examining the Larger Context

The World Bank recently estimated the COVID-19 could push as many as 150 million people into extreme poverty. This means that the current situation would force millions more to live on less than $1.90 a day. This is an enormous shift to fight, acknowledge and remain aware of. Yet, even that number pales in a larger context to the amount the world has achieved in reducing extreme poverty.

In 1981, 41% of most of the developing world’s population lived in extreme poverty. Over the last four decades, an incredible international effort has reduced that number to 25% in 2008. On average, millions upon millions rose out of poverty because of annual global efforts focused on decreasing poverty. A similar trend is visible in literacy rates since literacy and education are one of the best ways to reduce extreme poverty. Due to the pandemic, school closure and slashed budgets, an estimated 100 million more children may be unable to achieve sufficient skills in reading.

Paradoxically, global literacy has never been higher. Two centuries ago, global illiteracy rates hovered around 90%. By 1970, world literacy stood at almost 70%. Today, thanks to even more steady improvement, literacy is almost 90%. The worrying effects of the pandemic remain priorities, but the hundreds of millions lifted out of illiteracy, even in only a few decades, cannot be obscured.

Perception and Action

Despite positive trends, public perception remains negative. A 2017 survey found that a majority of Americans believe that worldwide extreme poverty rates have increased over the past twenty years. Perhaps news coverage and dismal portrayals of the situation overall have contributed to this perception. Furthermore, COVID-19 has led more people to believe that poverty is growing more desperate, but in reality, the pandemic stands as one tiny step back in a marathon of progress.

How has the world achieved such an impressive reduction in extreme poverty in just a few short decades? Though complex, part of the answer centers on the fact that much recent economic growth has taken place in populous, less-developed countries, such as China and India. These countries deserve much credit for progress in reducing poverty, yet wealthy countries like the United States have also helped by giving many countries access to the wealth of global trade, as well as spending billions annually on developmental aid.

There’s no doubt that the pandemic has dragged millions into poverty around the world, but a broader evaluation gives a reason for hope. In just forty years, the way countless people live has transformed, turning poverty into the exception, rather than the norm. If this effort continues, there’s no telling how much more progress the world will make in decreasing poverty.

Thomas Brodey
Photo: Unsplash

opiate addiction in IranIn 2021, Iran is a nation beset by three converging circumstances that threaten to push it and its society to their very breaking points. With the ravenous sanctions and continued threat of COVID-19, poverty and opiate addiction in Iran, it will take nothing less than the world’s best efforts and cooperation to improve matters. At the same time, these efforts will potentially rebuild trust with the country as well.

A Three-Headed Monster in the Era of COVID-19

Poverty, sanctions, and opiate addiction in Iran are thriving with and, in some instances, because of each other. In an interview The Borgen Project held with a spokesperson for the Iranian Embassy to the U.N., they commented that “COVID-19 has spread over all provinces of Iran, leading to about 90,000 death toll so far. It has also been under the most devastating sanctions imposed by the U.S. Therefore, it’s extremely difficult to cope with different challenges, particularly economic ones, posed by both the pandemic and sanctions.”

Further, in regards to how the opioid crisis interacts with those aforementioned issues, this individual told The Borgen Project that “when sanctions have put our economy in trouble, and when we need to address, inter alia, economic problems associated with containing the pandemic, we do not have enough financial resources to fight the drug dealers as hard as before.”

Many of the statistics and information available from outside of Iran seems to confirm this. While sanctions cut off Iran from the international aid community and maximum pressure campaigns only further sour relations and trust between Tehran and the United States, internal resources become even more scarce. Unfortunately, these resources have never been more necessary for Iran in its fight against poverty, pandemic, domestic addiction, drug production and trafficking from neighboring Afghanistan.

Opiate Addiction in Iran

According to award-winning author Maziyar Ghiabi, Iran could very well be considered to have “one of the world’s highest rates of drug addiction.” With an estimated two to seven percent of the nation’s population falling into this category, further support can be found for this conclusion in the statistical evidence recorded by many professionals over the years. According to one such 2014 study, about two million people could be considered daily drug users. This amounted to nearly three percent of the entire population. While not all of those two million suffer addiction to opiates in one form or another, eight out of every ten individuals questioned use opium and six out of every ten people potentially use heroin. Since then, usage has only increased, with Iranians using opium three times the global average in 2020.

When one combines this destructive hardship with the COVID-19 pandemic, one would likely be left with the impression that Iran is enduring a supreme domestic crisis. After adding the burdens of sanctions and extreme poverty, the conclusion that Iran needs international empathy, assistance and reconciliation is simply inescapable.

Iranian Poverty

Poverty is a pervasive and increasingly debilitating force in Iran. The aforementioned factors have coalesced to put real, tremendous strain on its government, society and people. According to internal studies, as well as individuals like Faramarz Tofighi, head of the wages committee of the Islamic Labour Council, “More than 60% of Iranians live in relative poverty because the workers’ wages are enough for about a third of their costs of living. Half of those who live below the poverty line struggle with extreme poverty.” That first percentage works out to close to 60 million Iranians, a truly sickening number. Between 2011 and 2019, poverty in Iran nearly doubled.

Fighting for Iran

Relief International is a global non-profit that focuses on aiding the poor in Iran, both citizens and refugees. Particularly at risk are the estimated three million Afghan refugees who crossed the eastern border over the last four decades. By providing cash assistance and rehabilitated facilities for education and economic training, Relief International does its part towards making a better Iran in the midst of historical traumas and issues inflicting the country. The United States Institute of Peace, alongside the Woodrow Wilson Center, has also offered greater insight and knowledge into Iran and its relationship with the United States.

The U.N. also helps where and how it can. It previously sent help in the form of materials and experts to assist Iran during this time of crisis. The millions of dollars pledged by the likes of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the EU as a collective has also helped in the fight, despite the greater EU and Iran’s squabble over sanctions.

While the United States has the most and best resources to act positively towards Iran, relations between both nations remain estranged and full of mutual distrust. For the United States to play its best global role, it may have to work on reconciling itself with Iran through mutual understanding and empathy for the nation’s people.

A Call to Action

Iran has a rich, sprawling history, going back thousands of years and spanning entire eras of human existence. With just over 85 million souls within its borders, its people are as richly diverse as its environment is. The beautiful capital city of Tehran has seen Shahs, Presidents, Ayatollahs and Prime Ministers throughout its centuries; yet, it has also seen war, trauma, hard times and true hardships. Not least of these hardships are the issues of poverty, COVID-19 sanctions and opiate addiction in Iran. Overcoming these issues will take the cooperation of not only global non-profits, European nations and international collectives, but also the United States.

– Trent R. Nelson
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Saudi Arabia
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Saudi Arabia is undeniable, especially when considering the growing unemployment rate. During the non-pandemic years, around 10%-20% of Saudi Arabians were in poverty and many of that number were women. However, Saudi Arabia’s government has not released specifics regarding poverty or homelessness.

COVID-19 in Saudi Arabia led to 8,591 deaths and 539,698 cases as of August 18, 2021. Additionally, the government administered approximately 32.8 million doses of the vaccine to Saudi Arabians. Saudi Arabia has a strict mask policy, requiring all people to wear a mask in all public places. Otherwise, unmasked individuals will receive a fine of 10,000 Saudi Riyals, which is almost $3,000.

Unemployment and Poverty in Saudi Arabia

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Saudi Arabia certainly begins with unemployment. The unemployment rate rose from 6.13% in 2019 to 8.22% in 2020 because of COVID-19. Most people in Saudi Arabia work in the oil and gas industry. Furthermore, the reduction of oil prices due to the pandemic caused the country’s economy to suffer and have significant layoffs. At the end of 2020, the unemployment rate in the gas and oil sector was 12.6%. However, it decreased to 11.7% at the beginning of 2021. The increase in layoffs made the job market more competitive. Unemployed men and women with no prior job experience must compete for jobs with people who have more work experience.

Furthermore, the pandemic severely affected women in the job market. Women are struggling because their main career areas are private-sector jobs such as retail and education. These types of jobs are core areas where the pandemic stay-at-home policies caused quite a shift. Additionally, half of the young Saudi women do not have employment and do not have education or formal training. COVID-19 is slowing the process for Saudi women to join the workforce. Closing schools and daycare made it difficult for women to work because someone needs to stay home with their children.

What is Saudi Arabia Doing to Help?

In 2016, the Saudi Arabian government created Vision 2030, a strategy to improve many aspects of the country by 2030. Tourism and women’s rights are examples of Vision 2030’s goals. However, the larger aim is to improve the overall life of people in Saudi Arabia. Concerning women and jobs, the goal is to encourage women to go to college and develop their talents. Saudi Arabia is making efforts for women to have more job security and improve their quality of life. In fact, from 2017 to 2020, the percentage of women in the workforce increased from 20% to 33%. Women having more job security and opportunities will make challenging events such as COVID-19 more manageable in the future.

According to the Vision 2030 plan, Saudia Arabia will address poverty. The plan also stated that “subsidies for fuel, food, water and electricity will be better utilized by redirecting them towards those in need.” The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Saudi Arabia slowed down the progress of Vision 2030, but the strategy is still flourishing. Vision 2030 is important because it is building a stronger infrastructure for Saudi Arabia, especially for the poor and women.

– Shelby Tomassini
Photo: Flickr

airlifts from USAIDNepal is a small country in Asia that encompasses most of the Himalayan mountains. In May 2021, Nepal experienced an uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 and Nepal’s government could not contain cases without foreign assistance. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) responded to this need by sending airlifts of personal protective equipment and oxygen to help fight COVID-19. Airlifts from USAID have served to limit the poverty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. With such support, it is possible to keep COVID-19 cases manageable while reducing poverty at the same time.

COVID-19 in Nepal

Nepal became the world’s fastest-growing hotspot for COVID-19 infections in May 2021. At the time, the country reported more than 513,000 cases and 6,300 deaths in a population of 29 million. Due to the rapid rate of infection, Nepal’s healthcare system was unable to accommodate such high numbers.

Vaccine accessibility was another issue for Nepal as only 7.3% of the population had received one dose of the vaccine as of May 25, 2021. With India bordered by Nepal, the vaccine shortage in India posed a major problem for Nepali citizens. In part, this was due to India’s government blocking vaccine exports as India needed to preserve its supply for Indian citizens. To solve this problem, foreign assistance was needed.

The dire situation in Nepal has severely hurt the economic welfare of its citizens. Recovery from COVID-19 in Nepal not only requires control of the infection rate but also economic support for the most affected citizens. Migrant workers who travel to India for work have accounted for a significant portion of the rise in cases.

Therefore, the COVID-19 surge in both India and Nepal has eliminated the primary source of income for many Nepali families. Nepal’s economy also suffers from a halted tourism industry, which previously generated a significant amount of revenue from the Himalayan mountains. Without the success of these crucial industries, Nepali families are at greater risk of sliding deeper into poverty.

Airlifts From USAID

USAID has had a long-standing relationship with Nepal. Over the last two decades, the organization has allotted $600 million in funding Nepal’s healthcare sector. To aid the currently overwhelmed medical system in Nepal, USAID responded by scheduling three airlifts to bring in medical supplies for healthcare workers. These airlifts are part of a recent $15 million aid package to the government of Nepal.

By May 2021, Nepal had received $50 million worth of COVID-19 assistance from USAID. The government estimates that this support has positively impacted 60% of Nepal’s population. Due to USAID’s COVID-19 support, Nepal has been able to perform nationwide COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. Furthermore, the country has been able to treat COVID-19 patients more adequately.

In addition to medical supplies donated by USAID, the U.S. government has committed to sharing vaccine doses with Nepal. The U.S. government’s strategy for distributing vaccines includes a combination of direct donations and distribution through international organizations. U.S. ambassador to Nepal, Randy Berry, confirmed in early June 2021 that the U.S. will directly donate a portion of seven million vaccines to Nepal. The donation is part of an effort to assist Asia by distributing doses among 17 Asian nations.

The Effectiveness of Airlifts

COVID-19 has had a physical, mental and economic impact on Nepali citizens. Many Nepali citizens travel to India for work, but with travel restrictions in place, the people of Nepal face more instances of poverty. USAID has provided immense support for Nepal throughout the pandemic, especially during the resurgence of cases. Combined with a plan to distribute more vaccines to the country, foreign aid has played a significant role in helping Nepal fight COVID-19.

– Viola Chow
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in EcuadorEcuador is a South American country with a population of more than 17 million. The country relies heavily on oil exports and was battling a global oil crisis when the first COVID-19 case broke out there in February 2020. Since then, the combined effects of the oil crisis and COVID-19 have created many problems for Ecuador. However, there are many sources offering aid to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ecuador.

The Impact of COVID-19

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world, Ecuador was one of the hardest-hit countries. Not only was it the first Latin American country affected but it also ranks ninth worldwide in confirmed deaths per million, according to the World Health Organization. The impact of COVID-19 combined with the effects of a global oil crisis could cause up to an 11% decrease in GDP for the nation.

Organizations Offering Aid

Despite the negative effects people across the world have felt and the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ecuador, organizations are helping the country recover.

  • U.S. Department of State – The Department of State/U.S. Agency for International Development sent almost $18 million in aid to Ecuador. This will fund improvements to the medical system, purchase rapid test kits and provide medical and personal protective equipment.
  • International Monetary Fund – On Sept. 30, 2020, the Executive Board of the IMF approved a “$6.5 billion Extended Fund Facility arrangement” with the goal of helping Ecuador recover from the economic impacts of COVID-19. By providing these additional funds, the Ecuadorian government will be able to spend more on health and education services. The government can also give cash transfers to Ecuadorians who lost their jobs because of the pandemic.
  • The World Bank – The World Bank provided a line of credit of $500 million to help the Ecuadorian government support families affected by COVID-19. In addition to this, it approved “$14.1 million in nonreimbursable resources from the Global Concessional Financing Mechanism” to provide additional support to the government for its admittance of a large number of refugees.
  • UNICEF – UNICEF reallocated $2.7 million in funds to help with the COVID-19 response. These funds were used to provide PPE, handwashing stations, nutritional supplements, hygiene materials and teachers to help distribute supplies and educate the population on proper sanitation techniques. In addition, UNICEF also provided funds to help cash transfers to Venezuelan refugees who have been unable to receive any from the Ecuadorian government.

There are also other non-governmental and international organizations that are providing aid to the people of Ecuador. The services provided range from telemedicine and hospital care to assisting with sanitation efforts. The U.S. Embassy and Consulate in Ecuador has a list of organizations that are active in Ecuador. It is working to help with the recovery.

Next Steps

As the country faces a difficult recovery, international support is vital to jumpstart the economy and support Ecuadorians. The government will need help to continue providing the necessary equipment, testing and social safety nets for the impacted population. Donating to organizations or urging representatives to continue supporting these forms of aid are great ways to help.

Despite this large impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Ecuador, aid increases recovery efforts. International organizations, foreign governments and non-governmental organizations are working hard to provide funding and supplies to help Ecuador.

Taryn Steckler-Houle
Photo: Flickr

The Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in the Palestinian Territories
The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the Palestinian territories has been extensive. COVID-19 devastated the previously struggling economies of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the last quarter of 2019, the Gaza Strip had a 43% unemployment rate while the West Bank had a 14% unemployment rate. Moreover, the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel, lasting from May 10, 2021, to May 21, 2021, further disrupted the Palestinian economy.

COVID-19 in the West Bank and Gaza Strip

In March 2020, the Palestinian Authority (PA) identified the first cases of coronavirus in the Palestinian territories. Surges in cases since August 2020 have resulted in intermittent lockdowns and stressed an already burdened Palestinian healthcare system. The Palestinian healthcare system’s already limited capacity and dearth of specialized medical care workers means the Palestinian territories have an insufficient ability to handle large influxes of COVID-19 patients. Also, Israeli-implemented movement restrictions between the Palestinian territories and Israel have constrained Palestinian efforts to combat COVID-19 by delaying the Palestinian territories’ acquisition of necessary medical equipment.

As of June 2, 2021, the vaccination campaign across the Palestinian territories has vaccinated 344,260 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip or 7% of the population. Thus far, COVAX has heavily supported the Palestinian vaccination effort and aims to vaccinate 20% of the Palestinian population.

State of the Palestinian Economy

Coronavirus-induced social distancing and lockdown measures have further weakened the fragile Palestinian economy. Even before COVID-19, political instability, periods of violence and Israeli restrictions on human and material movement in and out of the Gaza Strip were already causing a state of humanitarian emergency in the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, the PA’s suspension of coordination with Israel between May 2020 and November 2020 intensified the impact of COVID-19 on poverty. The suspension led Israel to suspend tax transfers to the PA, which account for the majority of the PA’s budget.

Due to the health and socioeconomic crisis, the Gaza Strip’s unemployment rate jumped to 49% by the end of 2020. Likewise, the pandemic has caused wages to decline by 50% or more in nearly 40% of West Bank households. In the West Bank, the pandemic and tax revenue crisis caused the PA, the territory’s largest employer, to cut its staff’s pay in half.

The pandemic also intensified Gazan food insecurity. The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reported that “food expenditure declined in 40% of surveyed households in Gaza once lockdowns went into effect.” As of early 2021, 68% of Gazans were food insecure.

Altogether, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the Palestinian territories has been drastic as experts project the pandemic will push many households below the poverty line. Specifically, estimates indicated the proportion of Gazan households living in poverty would jump from 53% in 2019 to 64% by the end of 2020 and the proportion of West Bank households living in poverty would rise from 14% to 30% in the same period.

Israel-Hamas Conflict

The May 2021 conflict between Israel and Hamas worsened already dire living conditions in the Gaza Strip and may increase COVID-19 cases in the territory. The conflict damaged 57 Gazan educational facilities and 29 Gazan health facilities. Moreover, the conflict damaged the Gaza Strip’s water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure, which serves 1.2 million people.

When the conflict caused the number of Gazan internally displaced persons to temporarily spike to 77,000, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) raised concern that the displacement may spread COVID-19. Following the conflict, positive cases in the Gaza Strip increased and now account for 84% of all COVID-19 cases in the Palestinian territories.

Renewal of US Aid to the Palestinian Territories

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the Palestinian territories has been stark. However, the Biden administration recently ended a nearly three-year U.S. hiatus on aid to Palestinians. On April 7, 2021, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced an aid pledge promising $275 million. The pledge dedicates $150 million to fund UNRWA, which serves nearly six million Palestinians across the Middle East.

The Biden administration earmarked another $15 million to aid the Palestinian response to COVID-19 and provide food assistance. Furthermore, the aid plan will provide the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) with $75 million to fund economic and development assistance projects and $10 million to fund peace-building programs. USAID will use more than half of the $75 million to improve access to water and sanitation and upgrade Palestinian infrastructure.

During Secretary Blinken’s visit to Ramallah, he announced another $112 million of aid to Palestinians. Specifically, the U.S. will provide another $32 million to fund UNRWA. The pledge will also provide another $75 million in economic and development assistance to Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and $5.5 million in immediate assistance to the Gaza Strip. During the visit, Secretary Blinken also outlined the United States’s goal to procure 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccines for Palestinians.

Future Outlook

While the U.S. only recently announced its Palestinian territories aid plan, the pledge will contribute to combating COVID-19 and provides a hopeful outlook for reversing the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in the Palestinian territories. Additionally, international efforts to procure vaccines and support COVAX have the potential to increase Palestinian access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

Zachary Fesen
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in TurkeyAfter the 2018 currency crisis impeded Turkey’s downward trend in poverty, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented another major setback for the country’s poverty reduction goals. When Turkey suffered its first wave of the pandemic, the country lost 2.6 million jobs, which made up 9.2% of total employment. Populations living above the poverty line, but with high vulnerabilities to economic insecurity, have endured the brunt of these job losses, accounting for six out of 10 of the job losses. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Turkey has been severe as COVID-19 disproportionately impacts the impoverished.

The Economic Impacts of COVID-19

The short-term effects of the pandemic on limiting job prospects and on low-income families are immense. In a survey conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), more than seven out of 10 respondents from Turkey said they are “concerned” or “very concerned” about their ability to make ends meet in the short term.

Further, the fear of job insecurity has reached a high in the country. In September 2020, a record 1.4 million people were too discouraged to search for work, up nearly threefold from the previous year. A poll by Istanbul Economics Research found that nearly half of those with jobs were “very afraid” of losing them by winter.

A notable rise in the prices of basic goods and services has also added to the concern of low-income families. Items such as bread and cereals, unprocessed foods and transportation rose by 16.3%, 19.8% and 14.7% respectively.

The true extent of the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Turkey may be much more than first anticipated. Turkey’s official unemployment rate hovered at 12% to 13% during the pandemic. However, alternative calculation methods, which consider those who stopped actively looking for jobs out of despair or due to COVID-19 restrictions, claim a 40% unemployment rate.

COVID-19 Impacts Informal Workers and Working Women

Another impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Turkey is the disproportionate impact on certain segments of the low-income population compared to other segments. The pandemic has resulted in a bulk of job losses for informal and lower-skilled workers. At the peak of the pandemic, informal workers suffered a -0.25% change in year-on-year employment, more than five times what formal workers have endured.

In addition, female workers were three times more likely to become unemployed during the pandemic compared to their male counterparts. This is especially due to Turkish female workers’ higher concentration in jobs that lockdown measures highly affect, such as hospitality, food and tourism.

Recovery Strategies and Results

Turkey’s government swiftly and decisively implemented notable mitigation policies to deal with the crisis, which consisted of increased unemployment insurance benefits, social transfers and unpaid leave subsidies amounting to a welfare shield of about $6.2 billion.

Without these mitigation policies, projections determine that the rise in poverty could have been three times higher. These mitigation policies fostered a significant job recovery in the country. As of September 2020, the country has regained 72% of the lost jobs with the help of the Unemployment Insurance Fund, which contributed monthly allowances to approximately five million laid-off employees.

Room for Improvement

Despite the government’s efforts to minimize poverty stemming from the pandemic, there is room for the government to do more to overcome the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Turkey. While the relief packages of similar countries have reached up to 9% of their GDPs, Turkey’s total relief packages have amounted to less than 1% of its estimated GDP in 2020.

Increased comprehensive government intervention to deal with the rise in poverty is an idea that appears to resonate well with the public. About 80% of Turkey’s citizens think the government should be doing “more” or “much more” to ensure their “economic and social security and well-being.”

Greater investments by the Turkish government, as well as the short-term and long-term development of more comprehensive social safety nets, would mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Turkey. Additionally, upskilling, training and other active labor interventions by the Turkish Employment Agency (ISKUR) could be key in closing the worker gaps that the pandemic has widened.

– Gabriel Sylvan
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 Vaccination in San MarinoSan Marino is a small Southern European state surrounded by Italy. Despite having a small population of just 33,000 people and a mountainside location, the country is surprisingly one of the wealthiest in the world based on GDP per capita. San Marino acquires most of its wealth from tourism and the sale of local goods. However, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic nearly destroyed the country’s tourism industry. The campaign for COVID-19 vaccinations in San Marino will allow the economy to recover as industries begin to reopen, igniting economic activity.

The Impact of COVID-19

In terms of the poverty rate in San Marino, minimal data exists. But, like the rest of the world, San Marino’s economy has also experienced adverse impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, tourism rates decreased due to stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions. Before the pandemic, the small country averaged around two million tourists in 2019, a clear indication of the significant economic role of the tourism sector. With regard to COVID-19 rates, San Marino has confirmed 5,092 cases and 90 deaths. The campaign for COVID-19 vaccinations in San Marino has been successful due to small population numbers and a steady supply of vaccines.

COVID-19 Vaccinations in San Marino

All of San Marino’s people have either been partially or completely vaccinated against COVID-19. The country administered mostly Sputnik V vaccines after signing a deal with Russia. Starting May 17, 2021, San Marino is offering a COVID-19 vaccine holiday package to boost tourism with an incentive. The holiday package allows non-residents access to vaccines in San Marino by booking accommodation for a certain duration at one of 19 hotels.

“The initiative is open only to those coming from countries that Italy has opened up to for tourism.” Two separately administered Sputnik V doses are available at a cost of €50. To receive the second dose of the vaccine, tourists must return to the country and stay in a hotel for at least three days. This way, San Marino makes up for its loss of tourism revenue while helping to eradicate the virus with vaccines.

The Road to Recovery

More than 66% of the population has been fully vaccinated through the campaign for COVID-19 vaccinations in San Marino. With no patients hospitalized for COVID-19, the country is effectively controlling its COVID-19 infections. With an adequate vaccine supply to cover its population, San Marino has found an innovative way to put the vaccine surplus to good use while boosting the tourism industry. The COVID-19 vaccination holiday package in San Marino is a unique solution to ignite economic recovery in the country. The offer has caught the attention of tourists who trust in the efficacy of the Sputnik V vaccine. Through innovative solutions, San Marino is finding creative  ways to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic

– Matt Orth
Photo: Flickr