Through the lens of a developing country
Hello, and welcome to our Voices 4 Change blog! This blog accompanies each podcast episode as a loose transcript and provides a little more depth into the discussions. For context, Voice 4 Change is a podcast run by Umande Trust, a rights-based organization founded on the belief that modest resources can help significantly improve access to water, sanitation services, and clean energy, starting with the community. Umande Trust firmly believes that the support of community-led plans and actions are key in achieving these improvements.
Every week, we will be talking about a wide range of topics: from climate change to COVID-19, to sanitation, to advocacy issues, and more. Today’s topic focuses on the measures to protect your health and the health of others amid COVID-19. Furthermore, we will talk about the realities and feasibility of these measures in low-income or underdeveloped communities. The measures for personal protection and containment of coronavirus are the same globally; however, circumstances influence the ability of certain communities to practice them. Endorsed by the CDC and WHO, the five measures are Stay, Keep, Wash, Cover, and Sick.
1) Stay at home
Staying at home is the keystone of reducing coronavirus. Social distancing prevents or limits you from interacting with the virus, contracting it, and becoming a vessel to continue the spread. It is also required to self-isolate or quarantine for 14 days, as symptoms are not immediate or are asymptomatic. One-of-four cases of coronavirus are asymptomatic but still transmittable.
While this measure is the most emphasized, encouraged, and enforced, at all scales of power, social distancing may not be an option for communities in developing countries for numerous reasons. Some individuals may not have adequate space or infrastructure to isolate properly. Many informal communities struggle with crowding in homes and neighborhoods. Other individuals may not have the financial stability or privilege to take work off. As effective as this method is, we need to address the realities of its application in developing countries and focus on solutions to them.
2) Keep roughly two meters away
Along with social distancing, aim to remain roughly two meters apart from others. Social interaction during this time is inevitable, whether it is due to grocery shopping, work, or trave — the list goes on. If isolation or quarantining isn’t an option, maintaining space between you and others is the next best thing to separate yourself from the potential virus. Vapor droplets can travel close distances from breathing, coughing, and sneezing.
The struggles with keeping away from people overlap with staying at home as the feasibility is entirely dependent on personal circumstances. Keeping away may be impractical due to space. Job tasks might require contact with people, especially in the foodservice industry. The world cannot stop for everyone, only those who can afford it.
3) Wash your hands
Did you know that the average adult can touch as many as 30 objects within a minute? That’s a lot of germs! Washing your hands for 20 seconds removes the dirt, germs, and other particulates that stick to your hands during the day. With or without washing, you should also avoid touching your face, nose, and mouth to prevent contraction.
There is also the distinction between washing your hands with soap versus hand sanitizer and its effectiveness. And it’s due to the biology of coronavirus. COVID-19 has a shell of protein and lipids, fat-containing molecules. The lipids act as a protective shield, and the proteins allow the virus to attack, enter, and replicate in our cells.
Soap is a detergent that can break up the lipid shield. We see this process when we use soap to remove grease from a pan. It is the same concept. The soap dissolves the shell and inactivates its ability to enter the body and duplicate.
Hand sanitizer is a good alternative to soap, especially where clean water and sanitation is not accessible — but only under certain specifications. It should be noted that hand sanitizer is better at killing bacteria than viruses. To be effective, the CDC recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with greater than 60% ethanol/alcohol or 70% isopropanol. The percentage matters. Products with these alcohol content are able to break down the virus, like soap. Hand sanitizer might not work on very greasy or dirty hands. Unlike soap, it does not physically remove germs and dirt.
Avoid purchasing homemade hand sanitizers as it may not provide a reliable percentage of alcohol. If you do have to make it, try to follow the guide provided by the world health organization that follows the safety standards against Corona.
The measure “wash” is important for public health but unrealistic for many communities. Access to clean water and sanitation services is the foundation of public health but has been one of the biggest challenges for developing countries worldwide, coronavirus aside. There are many factors that inhibit communities’ access to clean water and sanitation, from location to government. Inaccessibility to these resources is responsible for global water contamination and disease. Indirectly, it prevents community growth and development by creating setbacks for income and education, thus amplifying the cycle of poverty. Coronavirus is just another setback, which will be amplified in informal communities with little to no sanitation.
4) Cover your mouth
Covering your mouth while sneezing and coughing directly prevents the virus from exchanging between people. The best method is to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue while facing down towards the ground. After, dispose of the tissue and wash your hands. If tissues are not available, use the inside of your elbow. Luckily, this measure is more inclusive to disadvantaged communities.
5) Sick? Seek medical help
If your symptoms match coronavirus, seek medical attention. The severity of the virus varies from person to person. It is most dangerous for those who are over the age of sixty, immunocompromised or diagnosed with an underlying medical condition. However, be aware of the realities of receiving medical care. Across the world, countries lack testing kits and medical supplies to treat patients. A shortage of health professionals and medical care in developing may be worsened during this crisis.
Developing countries will undoubtedly be hit the hardest during this pandemic. Within three months, COVID-19 has already proved to be a socioeconomic issue as much as it is health, furthering economic polarization and inequality gaps. There are no immediate solutions to these issues like water access, which are necessary for protecting and containing coronavirus. And while the entire global community is struggling, investment and action to protect these developing countries are critical. Such assistance could be seen through international donations, government assistance, private sector involvement, etc. Supporting developing countries would not only protect vulnerable populations but also protect the global community as we are all interconnected.
We live in a very uncertain time, and some of these measures are more like a luxury than anything else. But the best thing we can do is be proactive and do our part, no matter how big or small, to stay healthy and safe and prevent the spread.