As Christians, we talk a lot about “the least of these.” As devastating as the consequences of coronavirus are for those of us in developed economies, they will be unimaginably catastrophic in countries with fragile infrastructures, economies, and medical services. I see a third wave approaching in this global pandemic and we must stop it. There is still time.
The first wave of COVID-19, as we know, started in China. Since then, the second wave has already struck. Of the 195 countries in the world, the World Health Organization, WHO, reports all but six have confirmed cases of this new coronavirus. Developed countries like the United States and Italy, so far, have been hardest hit. As insufficient as our advanced medical systems seem to be in containing COVID-19, I fear the third wave on the horizon. Should COVID-19 cases skyrocket as we’ve seen in medically advanced countries, the effects will be deadly and will jeopardize decades of global health progress and efforts to eradicate poverty for generations to come.
The trajectory of COVID-19 is starting to shift from urbanized capitals to regions of extreme poverty, conflict zones, and refugee camps. This third wave will attack people already living in the most extreme contexts—the Democratic Republic of Congo that has been battling Ebola, impoverished Bangladesh now home to nearly a million Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, Haiti which has yet to recover from its devastating earthquake and cholera outbreaks, and Syria where war rages o, just to name just a few countries. According to the World Bank, 10 percent of the world’s population lives on less than $1.90 a day. The dearth of medical services and personnel in low-income countries is already overwhelmed by compromised immune systems, malaria, cholera, 20 different Neglected Tropical Diseases, high rates of maternal mortality, and more. It is in these very places that the coronavirus can infect not thousands, but millions of people. Consider that more than three billion people lack basic handwashing facilities — access to water, soap or ash — and handwashing is the most effective first lines of defense against contracting COVID-19.
Unimaginable devastation is becoming a very real possibility. COVID-19 cases have tripled in a week in Africa, to more than 1,400 confirmed cases according to the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the head of WHO’s Africa region has testified, Africa does not have the resources to tackle a respiratory disease of this scale.
Refugee camps around the world, another place of high density and low resources, are at grave risk. Social distancing is impossible and crowded conditions are all-too-optimal for the high-impact spread of this highly contagious disease. The United Nations estimates there are about 30 million refugees worldwide, over half of whom are children who risk losing their parents in this pandemic. In Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, there has already been a reported case of coronavirus. The Rohingya represent nearly one million of the 30 million refugees in camps worldwide.
I want to stress there is still time. The UN announced a $2 billion appeal for funding to stop the spread of this pandemic. Each of us can support local nonprofits; we can support international organization, and our denominational and other faith-based organizations responding to COVID-19; we can donate to the WHO’s COVID-19 Solidarity Fund that includes both private and public sector response. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), addition to activating emergency programs that offer grants and loans, have called for immediate debt relief for the world’s poorest nations.
Many organizations are working alongside multilateral organizations. Food for the Hungry (FH) and Medical Teams International are working with the UN High Commission for Refugees, UNHCR, for example, to accommodate for quarantine, lab capacity, supplies and house isolation units in the Rohingya camps. We are working to strengthen preventative health and hygiene messaging with a team of Rohingya community health workers we’ve trained. But we’re acutely aware of the long road ahead as conditions likely worsen, and we know more coordinated effort and resources are needed even as we pray we’ll never need to use them.
If there’s one thing coronavirus has shown us, it’s that we’re all equally human, equally vulnerable, and universally connected. No one is safe from COVID-19 until we are all safe. There are few times in collective memory that call us to a united human community as now. Let us not forget the least of these in the midst of our own fears. And let us not forget that in Jesus, God came to us as a poor man and lived as a poor man. Jesus cared deeply about the impoverished. As we speak allegiance to Jesus, let us walk in his steps.How we respond to this pandemic will re-shape humankind.
We are left with two choices: Will history record a third wave of this outbreak, or will we flatten the curve and bring about “post-coronavirus” times faster than the current trajectory? As global citizens, we can flatten the curve before it climbs—from the crowded tents of Cox’s Bazar to the dry rice fields of Haiti. We can push the international community to take seriously the exponential havoc that COVID-19 could still wreck on all communities suffering extreme disparities in wealth, infrastructure, and medical services. Our Christian duty calls us to stop the third wave.