6 Global Health Achievements to Celebrate from 2023 While acknowledging the need for continued progress worldwide, it’s also crucial to recognize significant advances. Moreover, the year 2023 was noteworthy for global health achievements, particularly marking strides away from the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s to celebrating six notable global health advancements from 2023.

6 Global Health Achievements to Celebrate

  1. Disease Elimination. There was an unprecedented amount of disease elimination across the world in 2023, according to WHO. Some examples include Gambinese human African trypanosomiasis in Ghana – a life-threatening sleeping sickness that had threatened rural and impoverished communities. Fortunately, Benin and Mali succeeded in eliminating trachoma, a disease of the eye that can lead to irreversible blindness.
  2. COVID-19 No Longer a Global Health Emergency. After 13.3 billion vaccination doses worldwide and a review of the generally high levels of immunity and the declining COVID-19-related deaths and hospitalizations, the WHO’s emergency committee declared COVID-19 to no longer be a global health emergency. As a result, this is among the most significant global health achievements in 2023 as the world moves forward from the years of the pandemic.
  3. Bangladesh Triumphs over Kala-Azar. In 2023, Bangladesh eliminated visceral leishmaniasis, or kala-azar, a huge achievement for the country. Caused by parasites transmitted through the bite of an infected female sand fly, if left untreated the disease has a survival rate of just 5%. Wiping out kala-azar on a national scale is a significant step forward for Bangladeshi public health.
  4. Egypt Paves the Way for Beating Hepatitis C. Egypt became the world’s leading country in eliminating Hepatitis C in 2023. A virus affecting the liver, that if untreated can lead to serious and possibly fatal damage. Furthermore, Egypt officially achieved the gold tier level in tackling the disease and is collaborating with the Africa CDC (Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention) to help other Member States achieve similar results.
  5. Adoption of the Rabat Declaration. The 2023 Rabat Declaration pledged to improve migrant and refugee access to health care. Countries adopting the declaration will work to improve the health of migrants and refugees. They advocate for their health care to be included in the national policy of host countries, highlighting the right of every individual to have access to health care. Above all, this declaration is a huge global health achievement. It marks a big step forward in the protection and care of millions of vulnerable people across the world.
  6. The ‘Big Catch-Up’ for Childhood Vaccination. As a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic, countless children are behind on their routine vaccinations. This has caused vital immunization levels to decrease in more than 100 countries. This has led to a worrying rise in diseases such as measles, polio and yellow fever in children. However, the WHO aims to return essential vaccination levels to pre-pandemic standards. In addition, the WHO announced the ‘Big Catch-Up’ in 2023, working to restore health care workforces and rebuild the trust and understanding in childhood vaccination – to protect as many children and adults from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Looking Ahead

For many, 2023 was the year that started to feel like the world was no longer in the grips of a global pandemic. The first steps being made back to normality. As COVID-19 began to no longer be such a pressing concern, countries were able to turn their focus to tackling other diseases and health care concerns. Consequently, great global health achievements were seen last year. There is hope that with continued efforts and support, there may be many more advancements and milestones reached across the world in 2024.

– Rose Williams
Photo: Unsplash

Poverty in the Caribbean
The Caribbean is a region in the mid-Atlantic Ocean composed of island nations known for their easy-going lifestyle and beautiful weather. The Caribbean has everything that a tourist looking for the perfect beach vacation could want; from historical landmarks to world-renowned beaches and more, the Caribbean is a popular choice for vacationers of all preferences.

However, like many tourist destinations, the Caribbean has economically successful tourist towns bordering impoverished villages. The region boasts mansions of the world’s ultra-wealthy but also houses an astounding number of the world’s extremely poor. Despite the wealth that a healthy tourism industry can bring to a country and a people, many inhabitants of the Caribbean’s island nations experience extreme poverty. Here are five facts about poverty in the Caribbean.

5 Facts About Poverty in the Caribbean

  1. The Caribbean is one of the poorest regions of the world. Currently, about 32% of people in the Caribbean live below the poverty line. While one in three below the poverty line is already too many, it is not the highest rate of poverty in the world. However, because of the lack of economic growth, poverty in the Caribbean is worsening, and the Caribbean is on track to become the poorest region in the world as soon as 2050.
  2. Haiti is the poorest country in the Caribbean. Overrun by gangs, damaged by natural disasters and vulnerable to corruption, Haiti is a fragile nation. The economy often experiences crashes and has had an average of 2% negative growth over the last four years. Because of their weak economic state, people are ransacked by extreme poverty without hope of leadership or guidance from the government.
  3. Poverty in the Caribbean causes two challenges that ultimately lead to increased amounts of trafficking and other crimes — unemployment and institutional weakness. Unemployment in the Caribbean is high, averaging more than 7% across all of the countries, so many have to find ways to generate income other than a traditional job. In addition to relatively unsteady labor markets, Caribbean countries often suffer from corrupt or otherwise weak governments and unstable economies. Because these institutions are unreliable, Caribbean persons often have to resort to crime and trafficking to make money and stay out of extreme poverty.
  4. The massive dip in tourism that COVID-19 brought on shocked Caribbean economies and halted growth, even in the wealthier countries. Tourism makes up nearly a quarter of the Caribbean’s total GDP. The Caribbean depends on tourism to create jobs and continue the cycle of money in and out of the country. Because the pandemic nearly eliminated travel in all parts of the world, the Caribbean suffered from a huge cut in income for many consecutive months during the height of the pandemic. This hit to the economy increased poverty in all Caribbean countries, even those who had previously been on the road to economic success, including Barbados and Jamaica.
  5. The Caribbean depends on foreign investment to keep its economy alive. In 2021, Latin America and the Caribbean received nearly $143 billion in foreign investment. The COVID-19 pandemic decreased foreign investment because main investors like the U.S., the U.K. and Canada shifted resources from foreign investment to their domestic fights against the pandemic. An unforeseen lack of foreign aid shocked the Caribbean economy and caused many to fall below the poverty line. Since 2020, foreign aid has steadily increased but has not yet reached pre-pandemic levels and poverty rates have remained high.

Looking Ahead

Although the Caribbean is one of the poorest regions in the world with weak institutions, trafficking issues and challenges from COVID-19, the tourism industry offers these countries opportunities for economic growth. As long as the natural beauty of the region can be preserved, the Caribbean can expect a steady and even growing tourism sector that creates jobs and brings money into local economies. This sector has the power to bolster the entire region’s economy and decrease the poverty rate in many island nations.

– Suzanne Ackley 
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Barbados
Amid the global pandemic, nations faced numerous challenges in various areas such as the economy and public health. The impact of COVID-19 on Barbados was profound, affecting the lives of its citizens and causing significant economic setbacks. In June 2021, the World Bank approved a $100 million relief effort to address the economic downturn that the pandemic in Barbados caused.

Impact on the Economy

Due to Barbados having been a popular travel destination, it comes as no shock how the halt in tourism was one of the leading factors to the increase in poverty. Its heavy dependence on the tourism industry resulted in around 40% of the workforce becoming disadvantaged; mostly women dominated in this industry.

In 2020, there was an estimated 18% decrease in the economy, accompanied by a 4% inflation rate. This inflation impacted the prices of essentials like vegetables and fish, which increased by 4.5%. Prior to the pandemic, Barbados was already grappling with GDP issues. However, the impact of COVID-19 led Barbados to act quickly. The plan to contract the real GDP to 3% is what eventually helped Barbados bounce back from what could have been devastating to the economy. In June 2021, the World Bank gave a $100 million stimulus package to Barbados in response to the pandemic’s health-related, economic and social impacts. This package also included a vaccination strategy and a program to support employment in the tourism sector.

Equity in Education

Like many other countries, the rapid impact of COVID-19 led to school closures with some schools never opening up even after the end of the pandemic. Unfortunately, for developing countries such as Barbados, the lack of infrastructural resources did not even give students the chance to continue their education remotely. This is where the challenge of equity in education presents itself.

Estimates determined that in the Caribbean alone, school closures affected at least 1.7 billion children across 21 countries. Thankfully, through the help of private-public partnerships, it did help to support access to the internet to help continue the education for most students. Though not everyone in Barbados was easily able to access this resource, it ensured 100 schools got access.

Prices and Employment

In December 2019, the unemployment rate in Barbados stood at 10.1%. However, the pandemic caused a significant increase in unemployment, particularly in the tourism sector, which accounted for 26% of the labor force. The exact number of job losses in this sector has not been fully accounted for, indicating that the actual unemployment rate is higher than reported.

Prior to the impact of COVID-19 on Barbados, unemployment was averaging around a 10% rate but following the lockdowns this number skyrocketed to 24-26% from 2020 to 2021. Barbados took account of this percentage during the 23rd week of lockdown and tourism did not restart until 2022.

The impact of closing the tourism sector was significant, even if the economy opened back up; this is based on models predicting how the GDP would look after reopening. Experts predicted that the GDP would only move to 6% in 2021 from its previous decline of 7% in 2020 during the lockdown, showing that unemployment would remain high. They also predicted that unemployment would average 12% in 2020 and decrease to only 10% in 2021.

Positive Future

Despite the challenges, Barbados has shown resilience and received support from other nations. While it will take time for the country to fully recover from the impact of COVID-19, the government is dedicated to assisting its citizens during this difficult period. The tourism sector, which the pandemic halted, is a vital source of income for Barbados. To combat the pandemic’s impact on poverty, the DCI program collaborated with Barbados to introduce the “12-month Barbados Welcome Stamp” visa. Leveraging the remote work trend, this program became the world’s first remote work visa initiative, promoted through an aggressive earned media campaign.

The Barbados government announced this program in June 2020, resulting in more than 4.8 billion impressions and 2,000 applications. The official Visit Barbados website provides information on how to apply and highlights the benefits, including the option to reapply if individuals enjoyed their initial year. This program has been successful and the website offers resources for various categories, including families, individuals and even pets, showcasing why Barbados is an ideal destination.

Looking Ahead

The impact of COVID-19 on Barbados has been significant, affecting various aspects of the country’s economy and society. The heavy reliance on tourism led to a sharp increase in poverty, as two years prior to the pandemic it was at 15% and had a 2% increase afterward. However, with international support and the resilience of its people, Barbados is taking steps toward recovery. Initiatives such as the 12-month visa program and the country’s unique cultural offerings have helped revive the tourism industry and overall economy. While the road to full recovery may be long, Barbados remains committed to supporting its citizens and welcoming visitors from around the world. Through media campaigns and highlighting its distinctive experiences, Barbados aims to rebuild its tourism sector and regain economic strength in the post-COVID-19 era.

– Isabella Polo
Photo: Flickr

Access to Education in Sub-Saharan AfricaMany see education as one of the most important variables when it comes to a country investing in its future. The proliferation of educational institutions, resources and syllabi contribute to a well-rounded, literate populace capable of working in a wide range of fields and actively participating in their local communities. Unfortunately, there have been difficulties with access to education in Sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, particularly in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19 Challenges

The technological solution to the challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic posed is uniquely impacting sub-Saharan Africa, as more than half of the region does not have access to electricity. A 2018 UNESCO Fact Sheet revealed that nearly 20% of primary school-age sub-Saharan children are not in school, with that number rising to 58% for upper-secondary age (high-school-aged students). UNESCO predates the onset of a global pandemic that made it difficult for schools to continue to supply quality education to students, even with the support of technology. The low educational participation rate in sub-Saharan Africa, coupled with the technologization of education worldwide, has made this region of the globe an important focus of educational development going forward.

Despite advancements in technology that have supported the education of millions of students worldwide, it is difficult to argue that technology could adequately replace the teacher’s pedagogical relationship with their students when operating in person. With the closing of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a rise of “private operators” in sub-Saharan Africa. These groups exist outside of government-funded compulsory education programs and take advantage of parents concerned about the education of their children.

For example, in Cameroon, private operators created tools “for the sole purpose of generating profit, to the detriment of the public education service.” This may be profitable in the short term, but it could ultimately harm the public education system by promoting state disengagement. This practice ignores the need to preserve education as a universally accessible public good, rather than a privilege afforded to the wealthy and elite.

UNESCO and SDG4

The rise of private operators poses a hindrance to UNESCO’s goal, which aims to make universal primary and secondary education accessible by 2030. When a country starts to rely on private education to provide support for national literacy and civilian competence, it could lead to the reallocation of government spending away from education and into other sectors. This is precisely what happened in Cameroon when private operators became increasingly popular during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) is UNESCO’s initiative that focuses on education, leveraging partnerships with governments, policy guidance and monitoring to meet the goals listed on its roadmap.

SDG4 is a bold and ambitious undertaking, and yet all the more important due to the global educational setbacks that the pandemic posed. Despite the recent complications, a broader overview of the development of education in sub-Saharan Africa shows the positive trend the region has been on for the past few decades. From 1970 to 2010, the percentage of children who were able to complete primary school increased by around 50%, from 46% to 68%. Furthermore, the incorporation of research-based educational strategies, such as increased teacher accountability, structured, predetermined teacher guides, scripted lesson plans and school-provided food programs have all had positive impacts on literacy rates in countries like Kenya and Uganda.

Looking Ahead

Access to education in sub-Saharan Africa has come a long way in the past 50 years. With African participation and cooperation in programs such as UNESCO’s SDG4, as well as the incorporation of new pedagogical methods based on research findings, there is room for optimism toward the future of education access and quality, an essential preliminary step to combating a range of other social challenges, from job insecurity to political stability.

– Lucas Bunting Giordano
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in JamaicaThe COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated poverty rates in countries all over the world, including Jamaica, one of North America’s poorest countries. An island country with a shrinking economy and high poverty rates, the impact of COVID-19 impact on poverty in Jamaica is still alive three years after the declaration of the first public health emergencies. On the other hand, the nation also showed signs of substantial progress in its recovery efforts.

COVID’s Impact on Poverty in Jamaica

Historically, Jamaica has always grappled with high poverty rates, with rates declining in recent years. However, poverty rates have increased since the start of the pandemic, completely unraveling years’ worth of work and successful efforts to combat this crisis. According to the World Bank, Jamaica’s poverty rate increased from 19% to roughly 23% in 2020. Some residents who were beginning to make ends meet in the years preceding the initial outbreaks fell below the poverty line as a result of the pandemic. Many residents are still lacking access to resources such as reliable housing and clean drinking water. Around 150,000 Jamaicans lost their jobs during the pandemic, with re-creation and rebound well underway.

COVID’s Impact on the Jamaican Economy

While enduring aftereffects less severe than some of its neighboring islands, Jamaicans are still reeling from the pandemic’s impact on the economy. The Jamaican economy has experienced its greatest contraction in history as a result of the pandemic. It has struggled to rebound since the post-pandemic era and since the distribution of vaccines and other treatment resources, undoing years’ worth of efforts to promote economic stability and fiscal responsibility.

To remain prosperous and stable, the economy relies heavily on the tourism industry, including hotels and resorts, restaurants and entertainment venues. Overall, the industry accounts for roughly 70% of the country’s GDP. However, travel restrictions from other nations adversely affected the country’s economic climate, with the economy shrinking by 5% and GDP declining by roughly 10% in 2020. As Jamaican air and sea borders prohibited the entry of international travelers, the industry began to destabilize, along with the nation’s economy. Workers in the tourism industry were forced out of their jobs as countries restricted travel and demand for their services declined. According to the Ministry of Tourism, at least 50,000 employees within the industry subsequently got laid off.

Aid and Assistance

The Jamaican government has initiated several programs and efforts to aid residents reeling from COVID’s impact on poverty in Jamaica. One of these is the COVID-19 Allocation of Resources for Employees Program, an initiative that provides cash transfers to members of the population who are the most vulnerable. About 500,000 received aid from this program, including those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic. The program provides an automatic grant of $18,000 to all who received the most recent SET Cash Grant and are unemployed as of Sept. 30, 2021.

Similarly, the Supporting Employees with Transfer of Cash program provides cash transfers to Jamaicans, after verification, who have lost their jobs on or after March 10, 2020. In 2021, the World Bank provided Jamaica with $150 million to contribute to its recovery and rebound from the pandemic. Ozan Sevimli, World Bank representative for Jamaica and Guyana, states, “The operation supports the expansion of the country’s social protection programs to benefit women and men disproportionately affected by the crisis and introduces a social pension for the elderly. It also supports measures for the recovery of affected businesses.”

Jamaica also received aid in receiving and distributing vaccinations to its citizens through COVAX, a worldwide initiative that comprises multiple health agencies working toward equitable distribution of vaccines to the population.

Recovery and Rebound

Despite being slower than most of its neighboring nations, Jamaica has made substantial progress in its post-pandemic recovery efforts. Data from the Planning Institute of Jamaica shows Jamaica surpassed pre-COVID-19 levels of economic growth and recorded its highest level of employment, with 1,269,300 citizens holding a job. In July 2022, Jamaica recorded its unemployment rate at 6.6%, lower than pre-pandemic levels. In addition, the nation’s tourism industry has almost completely rebounded. According to Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, the industry has recovered by 90%. He also looked to 2022 as a “true year of recovery.” At a celebration of the country’s 60th anniversary of independence, he proclaimed, “We expect to close 2022 having welcomed a total of 3.2 million visitors contributing more than $3 billion to our economy.” Considering the post-pandemic trends. Jamaica looks to be on its way to a more prosperous future.

– Nicholas DeLuca
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in BelgiumFrom its start, the COVID-19 pandemic toppled daily life and called for many societal changes that still linger today. Prior to the virus’ spread, a 2012 study showed 16.7% of citizens under the age of 18 were living in households with an income below the poverty line.

The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Belgium, where the poverty line for a two-income home stands at €2,256 a month, represents a notable issue. Several key areas in the country experienced the impact of the pandemic.

Access to Education

School closures became incredibly challenging for children of low-income families because of their difficulty of access to the technology necessary for remote learning and a stable internet connection. COVID-19 posed the threat of widening the educational disparity between incomes by further displacing a cohort that was already at a disadvantage in the classroom.

In response to the difficulties, the Belgian government invested €10 million into bringing back retired teachers into the school to help make up for lost time. Additionally, schools were able to vet which students required spare equipment for the remote style of learning and equipped them as needed.

Social Impact

One of the first things to go as a consequence of the lockdowns was regular social interaction. For those already facing financial strain prior to the pandemic, the new isolation torpedoed some Belgians’ mental health and access to their support systems.

During the pandemic, 59% of the population reported feeling lonely as a result of COVID-19 mitigation. Unemployed persons or those suffering from illness have reported feeling “very lonely.”

A 2021 OCED report revealed that the response to the pandemic green-lit most of the risk factors for poor mental health, especially for those experiencing financial insecurity and lack of educational engagement. The report highlights the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Belgium as the same report shares that levels of anxiety across the country nearly doubled, heightening the stress of an already vulnerable demographic.

Nonprofits, including Mental Health Europe, sought to improve mental health aid for people across Europe by promoting initiatives that would allocate the necessary resources. The program also provided viewers with tips to improve their well-being that does not require expensive treatment.

To combat the feelings of isolation, communities banded together to form “caring neighborhoods,” which encouraged neighbors to check in on their peers to help satisfy their needs regardless of age, a 2021 Brussels Times article said.

Health Impact

People in financial hardship faced increased difficulty accessing adequate hygiene necessities and medical attention. To ensure that all Belgians regardless of financial background were not prone to the virus, the government issued a voluntary dose of the vaccine for free. The government also promised at the start of the pandemic to ensure “social protection,” stating that citizens would have guaranteed access to health care. If citizens could not afford medical costs, they would receive allowances and credits to meet their needs.

Looking Ahead

While Belgium’s economic future remains unclear following the pandemic, the European Commission revealed a “recovery and resilience plan.” Details included €5.9 billion in grants aimed at investments accelerating the transition towards a low-carbon and “climate-resilient economy.” In addition, the plan anticipates a 0.9% rise in GDP leading into the 2026 fiscal year. Efforts like this aim to lift Belgium out of the hardships imposed by the pandemic and set the country on a path to economic progress.

– Michael Mardones
Photo: Wikimedia

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in CambodiaPrior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Cambodia’s economy started to make an upturn due to economic growth from tourism, exports and rising wages. Poverty in Cambodia had dropped dramatically since 2009: median household income and GDP increased significantly and indicated an upward trend. However, the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic set back the economic progress that Cambodia had made over the past decade.

Unemployment in Cambodia

A substantial rise in unemployment, particularly in the nation’s informal sector, took place as a result of the pandemic. The informal sector of a nation’s economy is traditionally defined as an economic sector that is neither taxed nor monitored by the government. Within Cambodia, this takes the form of service work, as well as labor in agriculture and construction. Presently available data places Cambodia’s workforce employed in the nation’s informal sector at anywhere from 80% to 93%. Around one in five workers in Cambodia’s informal sector lost their jobs due to closings, layoffs and decreased demand. Unemployment levels in the informal sector continue to remain higher than they were pre-pandemic. The rise in unemployment in turn resulted in a rise in poverty in Cambodia.

Furthermore, tourism also fell, causing significant economic losses. International visitors dropped by about 80% in 2020, causing many businesses to cease operations, lose significant revenue and business and lay off workers. This impacted businesses, from travel agencies to street food vendors. While the Cambodian government is working to offset these economic losses and independent agencies have put together recovery plans, recovery has been slow for many within the tourism industry. Many are struggling to reassert their footing in an economy that has changed so fundamentally within the past three years.

Recovery Initiatives in Cambodia

Even with the substantial negative effects that the COVID-19 virus had on the economy in Cambodia, government initiatives have worked to mitigate some of the impacts of the pandemic. One of the most notable is the country’s new cash transfer program. Implemented in June 2020, the program’s benefits have been incredibly significant. The Cash Transfer Program acted as a safety net for those classified as poor under the country’s IDPoor system, as well as for children (5 years old and younger), the elderly and the disabled. An analysis performed by the United Nations Development Program found that the cash transfer program resulted in economic growth. Poverty in Cambodia was also reduced and metrics for food security, economic productivity and health and wellness improved. The program reached over 600,000 households and over 2.7 million people across the country.

In addition, there are non-profits and NGOs working to mitigate the worst effects of poverty in Cambodia. For example, the organization M’Lop Tapang provides education, meals, community support and medical care to impoverished families and at-risk youth within Cambodia. It partners with the Cambodian government as well as several NGOs to help those most in need. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the poverty rate in Cambodia was 17.8%. Poverty in Cambodia has increased to include approximately 460,000 more people classified as poor. M’Lop Tapang helped during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, delivering food to hundreds of needy families.

Looking Ahead

There is no doubt that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic was economically disastrous for the people of Cambodia. However, Cambodia continues to improve economically one day at a time, and a return to exceptional growth for the people and economy of Cambodia looks to be a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if.’

– Alexander Pommells
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Serbia
The COVID-19 pandemic created a sense of instability across the globe, not least among those living on the edge of poverty. The immediate impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Serbia was predominantly apparent among particularly vulnerable groups, such as people working in the informal sector. For workers, COVID-19 heightened job insecurity despite the government’s efforts to constrain the rate of poverty in Serbia with generous financial packages.

The Informal Sector

On March 15, 2020, Serbia declared a national emergency due to COVID-19. To mitigate the negative impacts, the Serbian government focused efforts on financial aid packages for the public. However, this financial assistance failed to reach some of Serbia’s most vulnerable groups. This includes those employed in the informal sector.

The informal sector in Serbia includes jobs in agriculture, construction, admin support, retail trade and manufacturing. A survey from 2019 discovered that 18.7% of households had employment in the informal sector. Another research study indicated that one in five people in Serbia work informally. The informal sector is an unstable sector of the labor market due to poor worker regulations and job insecurity.

Even prior to the pandemic, those employed informally faced a higher risk of falling into poverty due to the instability of the sector. As COVID-19 arrived in Europe, many industries in Serbia saw thousands of job losses.  Many people reported a significant reduction in household income and increasing financial pressure but lacked access to the government’s financial aid packages.

Since the pandemic, informal employment has increased by more than 30%. This could be connected to the staggering loss of jobs among people previously employed in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and companies having to cut down employment hours.

These factors forced people to take up informal employment to maintain an income flow. Estimates indicated that more than 700,000 people who worked for SMEs found themselves unemployed due to the pandemic. The growth of these informal industries suggests that a greater proportion of the Serbian population now faces job insecurity and the risk of falling into poverty.

Small Successes

However, the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Serbia is not as intense as that of neighboring countries. Serbia had one of the lowest increases in poverty over the course of the pandemic. This is no small feat for a developing country with a significant proportion of people living close to the poverty line. Despite facing the most significant global crisis of the 21st century, Serbia’s poverty level post-pandemic remained the same as pre-pandemic levels, at 17.9%. While this is a noteworthy achievement, one should keep in mind that Serbia remains one of the poorest countries in Europe. However, the stabilization of the poverty rate during these last few years gives hope that Serbia can continue the pattern of gradual and consistent poverty reduction.

Looking Forward

Amid these small wins, Serbia is looking forward to recovering from pandemic stressors. Ongoing efforts are necessary to rebuild industries most impacted by the pandemic. Additionally, by renewing former jobs and creating more security in the informal sector, the risk of poverty will reduce. In 2021, Serbia received a €200 million loan from the EU Investment Bank for a project to help impacted SMEs recover post-pandemic. The initiative seeks to restore 47,000 jobs and create more than 5,000 new ones.

Serbia is seeing positive recovery results so far. A 2022 report by the EU found that participation in the labor market is increasing in Serbia as the country continues to economically rebound from COVID-19 and youth employment is on the rise. However, the report recognized that to significantly support SMEs in their recovery, further efforts are necessary.

– Ariana Mortazavi 
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in Algeria
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted the global economy, leading to widespread job losses and a sharp decline in economic activity. COVID-19 has particularly hit the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Algeria has added to the country’s economic and social challenges as it experienced a double shock due to a sudden fall in foreign revenues and recession-induced lockdown measures.

Algeria’s Oil-Dependent Economy

Algeria’s oil-dependent economy suffered a severe blow accounting for more than 95% of the government’s budget. The economy has struggled due to years of falling global oil prices since 2014. Algeria heavily relies on oil and gas exports, rather than diversifying into other sectors, which made it vulnerable to the disruption of global trade due to COVID-19.

Before the pandemic, Algeria was already facing significant economic challenges, including high levels of youth unemployment that reached 26%, while women’s unemployment rate was on the rise and widening the gender gap. Inequality and economic hardships led to nationwide strikes and protests.

Moreover, Algeria suffers from multidimensional poverty that affects all poverty dimensions: education, health, living conditions, unemployment and financial inclusion. A 2021 Economic Research Forum article said that despite laws that provide mandatory education for nine years and the health law that assumes that health care is free for all, Algeria still needs to achieve those objectives.

In addition, more than 75% of the population do not have access to either hot water, heaters, television or refrigerator, or access to the internet. In comparison, 60% of the population has no access to waste management and 43% of households have at least one child not registered in school.

Decrease in Economic Activity

The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded Algeria’s economic challenges, leading to the closure of businesses, job losses and a sharp decline in consumer confidence, which resulted in a significant decrease in economic activity, exacerbating poverty levels in the country.

To curb the spread of the virus, the Algerian government implemented curfews and mandatory closing times for businesses. However, these measures disproportionately affected low-wage and informal workers who could not work remotely and lacked job security.

The Algerian Government’s Measures

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on poverty in Algeria, the government has taken several measures, including providing financial support to small and medium-sized enterprises, food subsidies and cash transfers to the most vulnerable populations.

It also launched a major vaccination campaign to reach 70% of the population and mitigate the impact of the pandemic on the economy, according to the Middle East Institute (MEI). The success of this vaccination drive was critical in restoring consumer confidence and kickstarting economic growth in the country, thus, decreasing the poverty rate and its effects. In April 2021, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) classified Algeria as a “slow inoculator” in its regional economic index, indicating that the country was lagging in its vaccination efforts.

The government fully funded a massive program to ensure vaccine accessibility to all residents. It has also “prioritized health care workers, vulnerable people and police officers” first to receive the SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. The government should test its health system periodically to improve operational abilities and evaluate its financial system to ensure adequate reimbursements, which will equip the country with a better capability to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Algeria.

NGOs That are Helping

NGOs in Algeria have also played a crucial role in supporting the health care system to provide lifesaving care to Algerians. In August 2022, the Algerian Medical Network launched a fundraising campaign to purchase medical equipment and hospital supplies as the country faced a surge in COVID-19 cases.

Nas Al-Khair, a local NGO operating in northwestern Algeria, launched a campaign to spread awareness, distribute masks and sanitizers and deliver food to residents safely to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and its effects on the community.

Despite the challenges Algeria’s economy faces before and during the pandemic, there are signs of a slow recovery and these measures have helped to alleviate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Algeria. However, the economic outlook remains uncertain and challenging as pre-pandemic vulnerabilities persist. The IMF has highlighted the need for Algeria to address its declining energy revenues and support the private sector to ensure sustainable economic growth. The Algerian government has implemented plans to tackle these challenges and promote economic recovery.

– Nisan Ahmado
Photo: Flickr

Impact of COVID-19 on Poverty in South Africa
Nestled at the southernmost point of the African subcontinent, South Africa stands as a sparkling reminder of everything pristine. Known for its deep blue lakes, majestic peaks and picturesque landscape, South Africa is a country rich in natural beauty and cultural diversity. However, South Africa continues to face a persistent challenge in providing a decent standard of living for all of its citizens. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this situation and the country of South Africa has felt the pronounced impacts of COVID-19 on poverty nationwide. Here is some information about the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in South Africa.

Inequality in South Africa From the Pandemic

Inequality has long been a problem in South Africa, with a large portion of the population struggling to make ends meet even before the COVID-19 pandemic. A 2017 study found that approximately 18 million people, constituting the poorest 20% of households in the country, were living in dire conditions, with a disproportionate number of these households located in rural areas.

When COVID-19 arrived, these figures increased considerably. According to The Conversation, the bottom 10% of households lost nearly 45% of their income during the nationwide shutdowns, highlighting the pandemic’s devastating impact on the most vulnerable. The pandemic has not only affected the income of South Africa’s poorest households but also resulted in a major decline in employment. The country saw a net 40% drop in employment from February to April 2020, leading to widespread job losses. Estimates have indicated that 20% to 33% of those who lost their jobs during the lockdown period lost the majority of their income, with 3 million to 5.5 million individuals falling into poverty as a result. Despite attempts to implement relief programs, a staggering 80% of newly unemployed individuals did not receive any support whatsoever.

Effect on Education

In addition to its economic ramifications, the education sector in South Africa has also felt the tremors of COVID-19. The pandemic lockdowns in 2020 resulted in widespread school closures, with nearly all African academies remaining shuttered for a minimum of 100 days. As a result, estimates have stated that nearly 13 million young students fell behind on curriculum coverage and will now face severe skill deficiencies in the coming years.

While virtual learning was an option during this time, the vast majority of learners across rural South Africa did not have access to such luxuries. In fact, a study of 515 participants aged 15-24 across the nation found that only 34.7% of households had access to a laptop and only a mere 23.9% had internet access at home, according to Frontiers in Education.

Food Instability

Another key facet of the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in South Africa is food insecurity. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a devastating spike in food prices across the nation, disproportionately affecting the country’s poorest. In March 2020, when the entire country went into full lockdown, many informal food traders were unable to practice their trade. Considering that the informal sector accounts for some 70% of overall food sales in South Africa, this delivered a major blow to the food economy. When food traders stopped operating, travel costs increased exponentially for food and transport expenses for those who were still operating skyrocketed.

Solutions

Fortunately, the government of this country has taken several steps to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in South Africa. Through the use of insurance, social programs, NGOs and nonprofits, the South African government has distributed nearly 1 million food parcels, reaching about 5 million people in the most severely affected regions of the nation. Furthermore, the government’s temporary “COVID-19 Social Relief of Distress Grant” (SRDG) provided nearly two-thirds of applicants with crucial funds to help ease some of the burdens of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, many citizens view the government’s actions in these regards as too little, too late. The application process for many of the grants and relief programs, including the SRDG Act, has received criticism for being difficult to access and understand. The expectation to apply through an online portal also excluded many individuals living in rural areas and regions without internet access. Despite the South African government’s efforts to provide online learning resources during school closures, students from low-income families, rural areas and underserved communities still struggled due to poor internet connectivity and a lack of personal devices. Furthermore, government officials’ misuse of grant monies and depletion of the already restricted funds made corruption a recurring problem in the distribution of help.

All in all, the devastating impact of COVID-19 on poverty in South Africa is an issue as widespread and contagious as the virus itself. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected almost every aspect of daily life, robbing everyday citizens of the financial and social securities they previously enjoyed. Without firm and immediate action from the government and international community, this issue will undoubtedly have long-term consequences for generations to come.

– Sanjith Sambath
Photo: Flickr