Unite to Light Blog

The Impossible Act of Preparing for COVID-19 in the Face of Poverty

March 20, 2020

Life is getting tough here in the US. We are practicing social distancing, adapting to working from home, home-schooling our children, lecturing our parents to not go out and worrying about running out of toilet paper. And this is just the beginning. Experts tell us that things are going to get much worse - less so if we significantly limit our contact with each other - but they are estimating 2.2 million Americans will die from the coronavirus, COVID-19 . 

A health clinic in Bangladesh, photo courtesy of the UNFPA Bangladesh & the Bangladesh Midwifery Society (2018). 

Now imagine if you slept on the streets? Or lived in a place without running water? Or lived somewhere like Uganda, where there is less than 1 doctor (0.08 to be exact) per 1,000 people. (For reference, Italy has 4.2 doctors per 1,000 people and the US has 2.3 per 1,000 people.)

Ventilators are unknown luxuries in refugee camps. Social distancing and washing your hands are almost impossible when every day is a struggle to eat and homes don’t have running water or electricity. According to the WHO, there are 3 billion people who cook on open flame fueled by kerosene, biomass (wood, animal dung and crop waste) and coal; which compromises their respiratory system on a daily basis. When COVID-19 hits these people, the death rate is not going to be the 1-3.4% we’re facing in the US; it will be much, much higher. 

As I write this, the first cases are being reported in Kenya, Uganda and Nigeria. South Africa has already reached double digits. While I worry for my community here, I am terrified for our partners abroad: the school who supplies the only meal a child will eat all day, the midwife traveling from hut to hut to deliver babies, the community health worker who may be the only person with medical training in her village, the entrepreneur who builds her co-op from nothing and the doctors and nurses who don’t have capacity to deal with their current medical emergencies, let alone one that could attack 80% of their populations. 

This is a global pandemic and I encourage everyone to think globally and act locally. What does that mean? Stay at home. Don’t change your behavior to avoid being infected. Assume you are infected and change your behavior to avoid transmitting. You never know where that person standing next to you in the pharmacy will be traveling or who they are taking care of. If we can slow the spread of this disease we can give scientists and doctors the time to find treatments and a vaccine before it hits those who are least equipped to deal with the disease. 

You can also donate to organizations that are doing important health-related work, right now. These organizations are best suited to help as the situation progresses because they have established networks of caregivers and supply chains. We are honored to partner with some of these organizations and encourage you to make a donation today so that they can help people across the world prepare for what is to come. 

Donate to Direct Relief (you will be redirected to the Direct Relief website).
Direct Relief sends help where it's needed most: to disasters and emergency situations; to hospitals and community health clinics. They are supplying clinics and hospitals in the most remote places in the world. They are also supplying N95 masks and other protective gear to healthcare workers here in the US right now. 

Donate to UNFPA  (you will be redirected to the UNFPA website)
The UNFPA trains midwives and community health care workers across the globe. These women are often the only trained medical providers in their communities. By supporting the UNFPA you support healthy families and female empowerment. 

Donate to Doctors Without Walls - Santa Barbara Street Medicine (you will be redirected to the DWW-SBSM website)
DWW-SBSM is dedicated to providing free, volunteer medical care for the most vulnerable of Santa Barbara County, when and where they are in need. Many homeless people have underlying health conditions and are not able to take the distancing and sanitizing precautions necessary to minimize their risk of contracting COVID-19. DWW-SBSM is mobilizing to assist our local community in need. 

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