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‘COVID-19 threatens 500m with poverty’

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• ‘How children, poor parents may jeopardise fight against virus’
• Chinese medical team begins14-day isolation

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic could push over 500 million people into poverty, says a new report by charity organisation, Oxfam. In the report titled, ‘Dignity Not Destitution’, the agency urged world leaders to agree an economic rescue package to keep poor countries afloat, ahead of key meetings of the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF) and G20 Finance Ministers’ next week.

The new report suggests between six and eight per cent of the global population could be forced into poverty as governments shut down entire economies to manage the spread of the virus.

“This could set back the fight against poverty by a decade and as much as 30 years in some regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa. Over half the global population could be living in poverty in the aftermath of the pandemic,”the report says.

The analysis, published Thursday by the United Nations University World Institute for Development Economics Research, was conducted by researchers at King’s College London and the Australian National University.

According to the report, the emergency rescue package would help poor countries to provide cash grants to people who have lost their income and also bail out vulnerable small businesses.

This, it says, would be paid for through a variety of measures including the immediate cancellation of US$1 trillion worth of developing country debt payments in 2020.

Speaking on the report, Oxfam International Interim Executive Director, Jose Maria Vera, said: “Cancelling Ghana’s external debt payments in 2020 would enable the government to give a cash grant of $20 dollars a month to each of the country’s 16 million children, disabled and elderly people for a period of six months.

“For poor people in poor countries who are already struggling to survive, there are almost no safety nets to stop them falling into poverty. G20 Finance Ministers, the IMF and World Bank must give developing countries an immediate cash injection, to help them bail out poor and vulnerable communities. They must cancel all developing country debt payments for 2020 and encourage other creditors to do the same, and issue at least US$ US$1 trillion of Special Drawing Rights.”

Also, Save the Children, a non-governmental organisation, warned that the large number of vulnerable children in Africa, whose parents’ incomes are from the informal sector, could jeopardise the fight against COVID-19.

Eric Hazard, Save the Children’s Campaign and Advocacy Director for Africa, made the observation in a statement issued in Abuja yesterday.
He said though significant efforts had been made by African governments to respond to the pandemic, the number of cases had increased since March 13.

“With South Sudan, the latest country on the continent to confirm a case on Sunday, there remains just three African countries – Lesotho, Comoros and Sao Tome and Principe – who have yet to report a case of COVID-19.

“Governments in the region are focusing on limiting the spread of the COVID-19 with increased restrictions, however, these measures disproportionately impact the poorest households that depend on the informal economy for livelihood.

“Across the continent, unlike in many parts of the world, social security coverage in Africa is extremely limited or non-existent and largely confined to workers in the formal economy and their families.”

Hazard said the organisation had therefore inaugurated a $100 million fund raising, to keep children and their families safe during the global COVID-19 outbreak.

The Federal Government, meanwhile, has disclosed that the team of medical experts from China has begun a 14-day isolation and would be tested for COVID-19.

It also said the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) would ensure the quality of the medical supplies they brought into the country, facilitate distribution, and coordinate engagements with Nigerian health professionals.

Minister of Health Osagie Ehanire, who revealed this in a statement in Abuja yesterday, said the delegation consisted of doctors, nurses and laboratory technicians who would help strengthen testing and management of COVID-19 cases, especially those in need of critical care.

He said the team would not treat patients but instead conduct capacity building based on its experience.The mission will also strengthen response in Nigeria based on lessons learnt in China.

“The Chinese medical team will provide first-hand experience and insight into how they were able to bring the spread of the disease under control.As at April 8, Nigeria has recorded 276 cases across several states with six deaths and 44 persons discharged. In addition to providing expertise, the donation provides medical supplies to augment the efforts of the government towards containing the COVID-19 outbreak in Nigeria.”

According to the minister, “The donors, a group of Chinese companies working in Nigeria, made this gesture in a show of solidarity and cooperation with the Nigerian government as the world works together to contain this disease which has disrupted the lives of many.”

Ehanire said the donation included medical equipment, consumables, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), over one million medical masks, ventilators, and other items valued at over $1,300,000.

“The PPE will also serve to protect frontline workers and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the line of duty.The Federal Ministry of Health, on behalf of the Federal Government, appreciates this gesture from the Chinese community in Nigeria, recognising that collaboration, knowledge sharing, and expert insight are critical in the fight against coronavirus. All available resources shall be deployed to support the adequate engagement of Nigerian medical experts towards curbing the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria,”the minister added.

This came as a former vice president of the Nigeria Labour Congress, Issa Aremu, yesterday urged Nigerians to shun what he described as “China-phobia” in the fight against COVID-19.

According to him, “The point cannot be overstated that China has successfully contained the virus which first broke out in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China in December last year. Nigeria would therefore benefit from their effective methods and advice on the use of relevant medical equipment.”

In a statement in Kaduna, Aremu said while the concern of the Nigerian Medical Association (NMA) was legitimate, questioning the support of China was unhelpful because according to him, the pandemic is a matter of life and death for all countries.

Aremu nevertheless stressed that the concerns of critical stakeholders like NMA and the organised labour should be addressed through collective engagement.

The NMA and other health bodies in Nigeria had argued that bringing in a Chinese medical team could dampen the morale of local health workers, some of who have been at the frontlines despite poor wages and equipment.


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