I keep coming back to the pandemic because it is so very interesting. I learned recently that the global death toll from Covid-19 exceeded 5 million. The Associated Press reported it this way:
“The global death toll from COVID-19 topped 5 million on Monday, less than two years into a crisis that has not only devastated poor countries but also humbled wealthy ones with first-rate health care systems.
Together, the United States, the European Union, Britain and Brazil — all upper-middle- or high-income countries — account for one-eighth of the world’s population but nearly half of all reported deaths. The U.S. alone has recorded over 745,000 lives lost, more than any other nation.”
There are many interesting things about this pandemic. Some like the amount of vaccine hesitancy I would never have dreamed possible. Another is the fact that this pandemic, unlike so many others, is in some ways affecting the wealthy more than the poor. How can that possibly be the case?
The death toll has been prepared by Johns Hopkins Hospital in the US, and according to Carla Johnson, of the Associate Press, it rivals the numbers of killed in all battles since 1950 according to the Peace Research Institute in Oslo. It is also now the global 3rd leading cause of death behind heart disease and stroke. Johnson also claims the numbers are probably underestimates on account of limited testing and people dying at home in many places.
Johnson reported an even more interesting aspect of this pandemic:
“What’s uniquely different about this pandemic is it hit hardest the high-resource countries,” said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, director of ICAP, a global health center at Columbia University. “That’s the irony of COVID-19.”
Wealthier nations with longer life expectancies have larger proportions of older people, cancer survivors and nursing home residents, all of whom are especially vulnerable to COVID-19, El-Sadr noted. Poorer countries tend to have larger shares of children, teens and young adults, who are less likely to fall seriously ill from the coronavirus.
Added to that, nearly 80% of the deaths are among the obese, and the wealthy parts of the world, like North America have an abundance of the obese. Thus there is good reason for the rich to be hit harder.
Yet the rich, as always, have some advantages too. Usually they have much better access to health care and drugs, but in this case there is no cure for Covid-19. There are only vaccines and these are largely held by the rich countries.
Yet inside the rich countries it is the poorer people who are hardest hit. As Johnson said,
“The seeming disconnect between wealth and health is a paradox that disease experts will be pondering for years. But the pattern that is seen on the grand scale, when nations are compared, is different when examined at closer range. Within each wealthy country, when deaths and infections are mapped, poorer neighbourhoods are hit hardest.”
In the U.S. Covid-19 has hit African Americans and Hispanic people more than whites. Probably that is because they are more vaccine hesitant because of historic distrust of government (for good reason in many cases) and the fact that more of them live in poverty and have less access to health care. In Canada, indigenous people have been hit hard, for similar reasons, but also because a significant portion of them live in isolated communities were social contact is so extremely important and while many of them live in overcrowded housing.
There is another crucial issue—the wealth gap and hoarding of vaccines. As Johnson reported,
“Wealth has also played a role in the global vaccination drive, with rich countries accused of locking up supplies. The U.S. and others are already dispensing booster shots at a time when millions across Africa haven’t received a single dose, though the rich countries are also shipping hundreds of millions of shots to the rest of the world.”
Africa remains the world’s least vaccinated region, with just 5 per cent of the population of 1.3 billion people fully covered.
It is good that wealthy countries like the United States have donated huge numbers of vaccines. But the figures above show that the rich countries as a group have not done enough. Some have called this a moral catastrophe. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said, “This is a global shame.”
Not only that, this is creating a potential monumental disaster, because the longer the rich countries allow the virus to smoulder throughout the world the greater the chances of new and perhaps even more deadly variants mutating. If they are hoarding, those rich countries might come to deeply regret it.