30 April 2020: “One ventilator for every three million people”: Plan International Australia releases new paper on why COVID-19 will severely impact the world’s poorest and most vulnerable

As Plan International Australia responds to the alarming spike in COVID-19 cases in Africa, the aid organisation has today released a new white paper on the five biggest challenges the pandemic will bring to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities.

According to new data from the World Health Organisation, Africa has recorded a 43% jump in positive COVID-19 cases in a one-week period and is on track to become the next epicentre. 

News of this spread is extremely alarming, with concerns mounting over the continent of 1.3 billion’s fragile healthcare systems; large refugee and displaced populations; conflict zones; lack of effective water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities; food insecurity; and weaker economies. 

“African nations do not have the financial capacity and social safety nets that Australia has fallen back on to fight COVID-19 and provide bailouts,” said Dave Husy, Plan International Australia’s Director of Programs.

Mr Husy added that aid workers were also extremely anxious about the colossal food shortage impact COVID-19 could have in Southern Africa – where millions are already facing an unprecedented hunger crisis due to severe drought and flash floods.

Last week, the World Food Program released its annual Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC 2020) report, which warned the virus could push the world into a “hunger pandemic” that will lead to “multiple famines of biblical proportions” within months if action is not taken now. Analysis shows that if food relief is not provided, 300,000 people could starve to death every single day over a three-month period.

“African nations do not have the financial capacity and social safety nets that Australia has fallen back on to fight COVID-19 and provide bailouts,” said Dave Husy, Plan International Australia’s Director of Programs.

Mr Husy added that aid workers were also extremely anxious about the colossal food shortage impact COVID-19 could have in Southern Africa – where millions are already facing an unprecedented hunger crisis due to severe drought and flash floods.

Last week, the World Food Program released its annual Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC 2020) report, which warned the virus could push the world into a “hunger pandemic” that will lead to “multiple famines of biblical proportions” within months if action is not taken now. Analysis shows that if food relief is not provided, 300,000 people could starve to death every single day over a three-month period.

A study by Plan International on the lessons learnt from the Ebola crisis in Western Africa in 2014-15 found that 88% of adults and children said they faced economic hardships, including lack of food, with girls often forced into risky behaviour in order to put food on the table. Throughout the outbreak, women and girls experienced heightened exposure to the virus due to their traditional roles as caregivers, looking after sick relatives and younger children.  

With clinics and hospitals in low-income countries already facing limited or no personal protective equipment, a very small number of ventilators per capita, only a handful of intensive care beds and limited ability to isolate infected patients, COVID-19 could be far more lethal than it has been in developed countries, drawing a deadly “oxygen divide” between the developed and undeveloped worlds; the privileged and underprivileged.

South Sudan has a population of 12 million people yet just 12 ICU beds and four ventilators for the entire country. “That’s a shocking and frightening statistic: one ventilator for every three million people,” said Plan International Australia’s Program Development Officer Sara Sinada.
 
The Plan International Australia white paper outlines five of the key challenges facing the world’s most vulnerable:

  • Many countries lack access to clean water, soap and information on COVID-19 prevention that is crucial in protecting against the virus
    Three billion people in the world’s poorest communities are unable to wash their hands at home due to a lack of clean water and soap. This makes it incredibly difficult, in these communities, to follow the World Health Organisation’s sanitation protocols to fight a highly infectious disease such as COVID-19.
  • Child safety and education is under threat
    It’s estimated that 89% of the 1.5 billion children enrolled in education are currently out of school because of COVID-19 school closures. This includes 743 million girls, of which more than 111 million are living in the world’s least developed countries where access to education is already a struggle. When girls are out of school they struggle to access social support structures and sexual and reproductive health services. In Sierra Leone, Plan International found there was a 65% increase in teenage pregnancy due to girls being out of school during the Ebola crisis. Economic downturns, job losses and school closures will increase sexual violence, exploitation, trafficking, child labour, child marriage and harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation. 
  • Dense, populous cities and refugee camps make social distancing a luxury
    Epidemiologists have pointed out that coronavirus hotspots – and the virus’ speed and spread – are greatly affected by population density. Heaving, developing cities such as Dhaka, Manila and Kathmandu – and especially slum areas – see people living cheek by jowl. The biggest challenge for internally displaced people is that refugee camps are extremely crowded. 
  • Community health and medical infrastructure is already fragile and many countries are in a food crisis
    The World Health Organisation has reported that at least half of the world’s 7.6 billion people could not access the essential healthcare they needed even before the COVID-19 pandemic, while many of these communities are already suffering from heightened rates of disease and malnourishment. Aid workers are also worried about the colossal food shortage impact COVID-19 could have in Southern Africa – where millions are already facing an unprecedented hunger crisis due to severe drought and flash floods.
  • Communication networks are weak, allowing damaging misinformation to spread
    The 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa taught us that in countries with weak communication networks and a lack of trust in governments, misinformation spreads like wildfire. Conspiracy theories, rumours and stigma in these vulnerable communities often run rife. In refugees camps and displaced populations, it is critical that conflict-affected and host-communities can access life-saving information about COVID-19, however many do not have access to televisions or mobile data.

With more than 80 years of experience, Plan International is expertly placed to respond to this crisis. We are drawing on our experience of responding in medical emergencies such as the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. We are working to support and protect the most vulnerable children around the world, including girls who are at risk of increased rights violations due to this crisis. Each of us can help support those around the world who will be hit the hardest. Let’s stand together as a global community and make sure no one is left behind. Help lessen the effects of COVID-19 on these communities by making a donation, now.

About Plan International Australia

Put simply, we’re the charity for girls’ equality. We tackle the root causes of poverty, support communities through crisis, campaign for gender equality, and help governments do what’s right for children and particularly for girls. We believe a better world is possible. An equal world; a world where all children can live happy and healthy lives, and where girls can take their rightful place as equals.