UJ: New documentary shows hazards of Covid-19 lockdowns for global poor

A UJ research collaboration has found that the poor face starvation and disease under lockdown in developing countries. Called COVID on the Breadline, the documentary explores the lockdown implications in the developing world.

The research, led by UJ’s Prof Alex Broadbent and Tom Gibb, Executive Director, Picturing Health, demonstrates the impact of severe lockdown measures on those living in poverty in the developing world. According to the team, the scale of potential vulnerability is sobering. Their study points out that by far the biggest risk factor for serious, critical or fatal Covid-19 is ‘age’. Of the 126 000 Covid-19 deaths to date, most have been among over-60s in the developed world. By contrast, 5m children under 5 die of preventable causes annually, and 800 000 of pneumonia alone. This means that on average over 1.5m children have died of preventable causes by this time each year, without triggering a global response – raising serious questions about the global community’s attitude to life in developing regions. These inequalities are not lost on local people and community workers, as the documentary shows.

Prof Alex Broadbent, says: “In Africa, we have a very low life expectancy within the region, with just 3% of sub-Saharan Africa making it past 65 and thus into the age-range where risk of serious, critical and fatal disease appears – in developed countries – to rise dramatically. By contrast, 20% of Europeans are over 65, and the median age is 42, compared to just 18 in Africa. If age is a good predictor of risk of serious disease in the African context, then susceptibility may be reduced accordingly.”

“This film encourages a fuller cost-benefit analysis of lockdown. Not only are the costs higher for developing regions, but the benefits may be lower. The benefit of lockdown must be measured as the reduction of the risk the disease poses to population health.”

Picturing Health made the film, which allows individuals from poor backgrounds in South Africa, Malawi, Uganda, and Zambia, as well as across the globe in Glasgow and Stockholm to talk candidly about their livelihoods under the lockdown- a challenge that is especially acute in developing nations with significant populations living hand-to-mouth.

In Africa, where nearly 90% of employment is in the informal sector, people who eke out an income by hawking roadside goods, shining shoes or braiding tourist hair have little way of surviving if they are forced indoors. The Masi Alli family are only dependent on selling hardware on a weekly family income of less than R800. Meanwhile, the Nyaude family only survives on weekly benefit of less than R500 from selling bananas.

In the documentary, self-employed Alli says: ‘A lockdown is almost impossible in Malawi. Instead what would happen is that the Coronavirus problem can double because people have no alternatives as they will prevent the disease but die of hunger”.

Anne Nyaude says she is one of the people living in a rented slum and it’s going to be challenging for her to pay rent. “What are we going to eat? It’s very difficult. I plead with the government to prevent the spread of the Corona Virus by promoting cleansiness and social distancing and not by lockdown.”

The project was undertaken by UJ’s Institute for the Future of Knowledge in partnership with Picturing Health and involved a team of researchers in each of the countries studied.

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