As we all have been following the news on COVID-19 spread, our everyday thoughts and concerns are mostly similar. We’re always up to hear about the number of total cases, deaths, and recoveries; what the World Health Organization (WHO) is saying, and what mechanisms are in place for how we deal with our daily circumstances. Country-level responses to this pandemic situation, however, are different due to unique national and local circumstances.
I attended the WHO media briefing hosted this morning. Focusing on the current global response to push the virus down, the Director-General Dr Tedros and experts streamed a successful brief on questions regarding intervention measures against COVID-19 spread. Among Points discussed were WHO’s views on whether people who don’t have the virus should wear masks, and how different countries are responding to the pandemic in different ways. What caught my attention from the core points Dr Tedros briefed on, however, was his discussion of how COVID-19 situations and intervention measures differ in different places. According to Dr Tedros, every country’s situation in this pandemic event is unique. The public health interventions that have successfully prevented the disease spread in one country vary from those that have worked for another. For this reason, Dr Tedros made it clear that WHO doesn’t intend to prescribe or apply a one-size solution fits all policy for the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, WHO is focusing on providing countries with general guidance that triggers solutions which could work best for preventing and controlling the pandemic within their communities.
When Dr Tedros explained how interventions could be different in different parts of the world, he talked about low-income settings where there are people who earn their daily bread from their daily work. Tedros’s views were real for most developing countries, which cannot afford to provide citizens with compensation/benefit options to get through a crisis like this. The way developed and developing countries respond to COVID-19 varies due to their different economic, political, and social realities. Just like Tedros said, situations are very different in diverse settings. An intervention that effectively prevented the spread of the disease in one community may not result in a comparable outcome if applied in another.
Although African countries have contracted the virus later in time than other parts of the world, they still would significantly be disadvantaged when they intervene. The governments are unfortunate enough not to be able to provide money for people’s survival. A significant portion of their population earn their daily bread from their daily wages, and can’t afford to cover their living expense for months. Employees of most governmental and non-governmental institutions can’t work from home because the nature of most tasks doesn’t allow remote working, and the systems haven’t been advanced for this functionality. For a stay home order to be effective in such settings, it requires a careful analysis of the overall situation of the community during the pandemic (unemployment level and economic hardships, social and psychological makeups of the society, etc.) and strategic use of individual approaches that could bring about the desired outcome. For this reason, I share Tedros’s conclusion that not all interventions do fit in all contexts, although the COVID-19 situation is a global threat to all of us.
There are, however, advantages in these systemic differences. These differences are chances for authorities to make an assessment of what is needed in the specific context, and be strategic about what mechanisms to utilize to respond to the pandemic in an efficient and timely manner. Like Tedros mentioned, challenges lead to innovations; they do lead to an exploration of options to fix small and big issues limiting public health interventions. Communities and governments would then find it easier to commit to recommendations by the WHO and other public health authorities.