Vulnerable countries face 3 times the risk of COVID-19 exposure, yet have 6 times lower access to healthcare services


CARE’s analysis of INFORM Global Risk Index data has found that the world’s ‘highest risk’ countries have three times higher exposure to epidemics, such as COVID-19, but also have a six times higher risk in terms of their access to healthcare compared to the world’s lowest risk countries. Somalia, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Chad, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Sudan, Niger, Haiti and Uganda are all considered ‘Very High Risk’ by INFORM and are amongst the countries with the weakest capacity to cope with the added stress of a pandemic such as COVID-19.
“While even wealthy and better prepared nations are struggling to cope at this time, the impact on the countries highlighted in this analysis shows how people living in insecure environments, with extremely weak health infrastructure, are going to be far worse off. Countries such as South Sudan and Syria are in the midst of conflict. Many countries on this list are already food insecure, with large parts of their populations reliant on international aid for survival. Add on COVID-19 and it is not only national health systems that will struggle to cope, but the entire infrastructure and basic services. This is a truly terrifying thought for all of us working in the humanitarian sector,” says Sally Austin, CARE International’s Head of Emergency Operations.
As Tue Jakobsen CARE Turkey’s, Assistant Country Director – Humanitarian notes “in Northwest Syria, there is no functioning government and the health system has been destroyed over the past nine years. Hundreds of thousands of people are not able to do basic preventative measure, such as wash their hands. With no testing capacity, it is highly likely that the virus has been spreading around without our knowledge, so we might be weeks behind in our response. An outbreak will cause mayhem in an area that has already gone through so much suffering. We are currently at a stage where only around 900 testing kits have been made available this week in Idlib and there is only one lab that can that can handle about 20 tests per day. Since this is a global crisis, countries are prioritizing their own responses and Syria has been completely neglected. There is an urgent need to scale up the health response and increase health supplies going into Northwest Syria.”
On top of poor access to healthcare these countries also face the highest levels of food insecurity, displacement and socio-economic inequality. All of which increase they vulnerability to COVID-19 and the likely levels of devastation the virus will have in a given country.
CARE’s analysis found that in comparison to the 36 ‘very low risk’ countries, including Norway, UK and New Zealand, the 14 most vulnerable and ‘very high risk’ countries are at over 4 times (336%) higher risk of food insecurity, almost 9 times (756%) higher risk of socioeconomic vulnerability, and over three times more likely to be providing refuge for displaced and uprooted people (210% greater risk level)
“This data shows a stark and chilling picture of what we can expect as we start to see the COVID-19 pandemic spread to many Asian, Africa and Middle Eastern countries. In order to try and best prepare, at CARE, where possible, we are scaling up our activities to ensure that clear guidance on risk, prevention and awareness of symptoms are available in the communities where we work. We are scaling up water supply activities to facilitate good personal and household hygiene,” Austin said.
“But this alone is clearly not enough. We need strong commitments from all national Governments to immediately respect the global cease fire called for by the UN Secretary General earlier this week and we need to ensure humanitarians are seen as essential workers and supported to have unimpeded access to continue to deliver lifesaving assistance to already highly vulnerable communities. We also call on all major donors to show solidarity and contribute to the global appeal that was launched on 25th March,” says Austin.
Austin adds “if coronavirus has shown us one thing it is that we are all in this together. The sense of community this pandemic has created is truly heart-warming. We are asking people to go one step further and not just care for their local communities, but also to think about their global community, and those likely to be affected even worse.”