Lack of coronavirus tests and challenges to impose lockdowns due to dire economic conditions were indicated as especially problematic.
FILE PHOTO: A boy wearing a protective face mask sits on a bucket outside a house in a slum area, during an extended nationwide lockdown to slow the spreading of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New Delhi, India, June 24, 202
(photo credit: REUTERS/ADNAN ABIDI/FILE PHOTO)
How is the coronavirus emergency affecting low-income countries across the continents? A virtual panel organized by the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Medical School for International Health (MSIH) and BGU Center for Global Health on Wednesday offered first-hand testimonies from several nations, including Perù, Ghana, Ethiopia, India and Nepal.
MSIH is a medical school offering a full four-years M.D. curriculum also incorporating global health elements. Among the opportunities offered to the students is an eight-week-long global health clerkship in a developing country.
The event featured medical professionals from several institutions where BGU students spend their clerkship, who shared their experience and challenges.
Lack of coronavirus tests and challenges to impose lockdowns due to dire economic conditions were indicated as especially problematic, with significant differences though from country to country, but also from region to region.
“To soften the economic impact of the closures, the government gave cash bonds to the poorest population but this made the situation worse with increased transmission,” explained Dr. Graciela Meza, associate professor at the Medicine Faculty of National University of the Peruvian Amazon, at the Regional Health Directorate of Loreto, Perù, one of the countries most affected by the virus. “This high viral transmission caused the total collapse of hospitals in Loreto. At one time they had six times the hospital capacity. Patients were in the corridor or in tents outside the hospital.”
Meza pointed out that while the mortality rate per 100,000 people in the world due to COVID-19 stands at 8.86 and in Israel at 5.69, in Perù it has reached 142.79 and in Iquitos, the regional capital of Loreto, 182.37.
The number of cases and especially of deaths in Ghana and Ethiopia has remained relatively small, despite the limited amount of testing which might not allow for an accurate picture, local experts reported during the event.
“When you look at the population-based rates, our mortality experience seems to be low,” explained Dr. Arvind Kashturi, professor of Community Health at St. John’s Medical College in Bangalore, India. “The structure of our population seems to be related to it. The proportion of the population of India above age 65 is about 9%. Perhaps that is related to our mortality experience with COVID-19. We are also aware of the need for testing.”
India so far has registered 1.9 million cases of coronavirus and some 36,000 deaths.
Another speaker from India, Dr. Sam Marconi, assistant professor from the Department of Community Health at The Christian Medical College, Vellore, highlighted that a big challenge is posed by patients who live with chronic diseases and therefore need a constant supply of medicine and treatments. Marconi noted that this challenge is especially problematic for those vast sectors of the Indian population for whom access to food was restricted due to restrictions imposed to limit the outbreak.
“In Nepal there was a timely lockdown,” said Dr. Gyan Kayastha, Associate Professor at the Patan Academy of Health Sciences in Kathmandu. “The main problem was caused by the huge influx of people from abroad and across the border. In addition, there was a lack of laboratories, testing, and screening facilities, as well as of hospital beds and ICU ventilators.”
Since the first cases were registered at the end of February, Kayastha pointed out that the health system has gotten more organized, increasing both testing capabilities and hospital beds.
“Even when we’re surrounded by death and destruction, we can make a difference,” BGU Center for Global Health, Professor Mark Clarfield concluded. “I think this conference is an example of this.”