Nepal’s case spike and recovery

Since March 24th, Nepal has been under lockdown to help battle the pandemic, and up until May 29th, the confirmed cases were below 1,000 according the the World Health Organization. Since then, cases have spiked to over 17,000.

Despite the considerable surge, the fatalities have been below baseline figures globally, with only 38 deaths so far. One speculative reason behind this figure is that the confirmed cases have been in younger individuals, who have a higher chance at a better outcome than the older populations. The increases have been attributed to Nepalis who are finally returning home from working abroad, and not, as suspected, from the protests that took place in early June.

As of July 14th, Nepal had conducted nearly 290,000 tests and has placed 23,470 people currently in quarantine, according to the Nepali government. According to the Health Ministry, 60.53 percent of the total cases have recovered and returned home.

Author: Camryn Thomas

Bangladesh’s citizens struggle with getting medical care for COVID

As of July 14th, Bangladesh has registered about 190,057 COVID-19 cases and 2,424 deaths. Medical experts say that the real numbers are likely higher because of the lack of testing going on. Though there are roughly 3,000 new cases accumulating each day, hospitals have many empty beds, as citizens are scared to enter hospitals.

In the capital Dhaka, roughly 4,800 of the 6,300 beds set aside for COVID patients are not being used, and there are only 100 patients in a new 2,000-bed field hospital built for the pandemic. In Chittagong, authorities say only half of its dedicated beds are currently filled. According to the health department, the beds aren’t being used because many people are being treated at home. “Most of the patients have mild symptoms. Adequate telemedicine services are available. That may be the reason for empty beds in hospitals,” Nasima Sultana, health department deputy head asserted.

An official for a medical charity has told of the patients hesitations, stating that many have said they’d “rather die at home than die in a hospital.” A survey of 80,000 people carried out with the UN found that 44% of Bangladeshis were “too scared” to even use the government’s COVID helpline. The fear stems from the country’s hospitals not being “patient-friendly.” Rashid e Mahbub, head of the Bangladesh Health Rights Movement spoke on the issue further, “A negative perception have been treated, and that is promoting many patients to stay at home. Few people can afford the expensive private hospitals. […] A significant number of COVID-19 patients are dying at home.”

“We heard the doctors and nurses don’t come near patients for fear of being infected,” an anonymous woman stated. The hospitals had poor reputations before the pandemic, and thousands of wealthier citizens went to Thailand or Singapore for check-ups instead. With borders closed, they are unable to do that. Patients die at home without being followed up by doctors from the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS).

Virologist Nazrul Islam said that the questionable patient management system of the DGHS was resulting in the at-home deaths and the patients staying at home were not being followed up with and not declared recovered on confirmatory tests. He believes that the flawed management will prolong the stay of the virus.

Author: Camryn Thomas

Asian Businesses Respond to COVID-19

A guest post today from UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School student Youthika Chauhan, a doctoral candidate and Graduate Phillips Ambassador for 2020, as well as a past Mahatma Gandhi Fellow through UNC Sangam and the Carolina Asia Center:

COVID-19 has created an impact on each of our lives in many different ways. But with the onset of the July, more and more countries are relaxing their measures. Several organizations have been instrumental in helping local communities to cope with the stringent legal measures. As a PhD candidate at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, I have the opportunity to study several socially impactful organizations. Many scientists, educators, and other professionals shared their insights about how their organization helped their local communities to cope with the recent difficult times. Their stories are as not only impactful but also inspirational for they symbolize the better times that lie ahead of us.

Smart Air is multi-country social enterprise based in China, India, Mongolia, Philippines, Bangladesh, Thailand and Indonesia that makes affordable air purifiers. Dhariyash Rathod, the CEO of Smart Air India shares that on the outbreak of COVID-19, Smart Air team ran tests to determine the best material suited for making DIY masks. Then, the firm shared their data, and released the “Ultimate Guide to Homemade Face Masks for Coronavirus” on their website.

Kagal Education Society, an educational non-profit based in rural India has been working on some very innovative teaching approaches. Their simple, yet effective use of technology has not only prevented the education of their students from being disrupted, but has also ensured that the educational needs of their each of their students is met even in these difficult times. According to Sharmilee Mane, Director of YD Mane Research Center for Agriculture and Rural Development (part of the Kagal Education Society), “students have goals for their studies.” Sharmilee describes how their organization makes sures that their students can accomplish all of their goals. “Our teachers deliver lectures on Zoom. They share their homework on WhatsApp with the parents. The parents then make the students complete their homework, and share it with the teachers on WhatsApp. We have been conducting classes with not more than 15 students at a time, as per the government’s regulation.” With the right use of technology, Kagal Education Society has set an example for educational institutes to follow, not only in rural India, but also in developing regions across the world.

Winkler Partners, a Taiwan-based law firm has made significant effort to ameliorate vulnerable lives impacted severely by COVID-19. James Hill, Community Coordinator at Winkler Partners shared about their work with me. “We weren’t that badly affected by COVID-19, however a lot of charities stopped supporting or providing services to the homeless because people were encouraged to not interact with each other, to be socially distant. A lot of charities, pulled out of doing the kind of on-the-ground work that they’ve been doing. So, we helped support a charity that was stepping into to provide regular meals to homeless people.”

Indeed, efforts like these allow not only organizations to be resilient in hard times, but also enable local communities to be resilient, and recover soon. While we look forward to better times, it is important to acknowledge the efforts of all those who have provided their time, resources, and efforts in dealing with the pandemic.

South and Southeast Asian farmers and COVID’s impact

COVID-19 has affected many different work demographics in unprecedented ways, and farmers are no exception. As the virus continues to threaten lives and livelihoods of millions around the world, in South and Southeast Asia, added concerns about the long-term health of the sub-regions’ food systems are being raised. (See also last week’s post about the impact on seafood supply chains.)
Some farmers in Central Luzon, located in the Philippines, claim that the fertilizers that they’ve received from the Department of Agriculture (DA) as a part of COVID-19 aid are overpriced. Two farmers, William Laureta and Ernesto Agustin Domino, on June 10th, said that the DA stimulus program bought roughing 1.8 million bags of urea fertilizer for a total of P1.8 billion (2.22B USD)- around P1,000 (1,200 USD) per bag – however, the average retail price of the fertilizer was only P850 (1,000 USD) per bag, creating an overprice of P271.6 million (335.4M USD).
Laureta stated [in translation] “farmers could barely survive this crisis, and even the government is vitally scraping the bottom of the barrel now just to look for funds to help the most vulnerable sectors, including farms, and to keep the economy afloat.” Domingo added “these agriculture officials should be taken to task for knowingly entering into an anomalous and overpriced contract. They have betrayed us farmers who need all the help we can get and have defrauded the government of millions of pesos of crucial funds.” Both agree that the savings the DA could have garnered could be used to add to the government’s COVID-19 response, as President Rodrigo Duterte said that the country was running out of funds.
Malaysia is the world’s second-largest palm oil producer, and relies on foreigners, drawn mainly from the neighboring Indonesia and South Asian countries, for roughly 70% of its plantation workforce. Recruitment has been stalled as a result of the stay-at-home orders, and this has caused the country’s plantation industry to be short 500,000 workers, according to the Malaysian government. “We have not received new workers in the last three months,” said Nageeb Wahab, chief executive of the Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA), “many workers have repatriated and absconded during the lockdown. A lot of estates will be short of workers.”
Plantation and Commodities Minister Mohd Khairuddin Atman Razali has urged the companies to hire more local workers. “If we talk about the introduction of new foreign workers in the sector, it will not happen in the near future because we have restricted their entry until further notice. The current batch of foreign workers are those who have a work permit[…] when their permit ends, they will be sent back to their respective countries. This is an opportunity for us to replace them with locals.”
India is home to 120 million smallholder farmers who contribute over 40% of the country’s grain production, and over 50% of its fruits, vegetables, oilseeds and other crops. While each year, India’s farmers face challenges like low rainfall, price volatility, and debt, the pandemic is adding new risks and challenges, as the nationwide lockdown came during the harvest season. This has created shortages of both labor and equipment, as migrant workers are unable to move to rural areas as they usually would, and the harvesting equipment that smallholder farmers need is unavailable for renting.
Farmers have been unable to harvest their bumper crops (cereal and oilseed) this season, while in some places the crops have been delayed or completely abandoned. Though India’s feedback had the minimum operational buffer in stock three times over, supply and access is the critical issue. Long supply chains are heavily affected as transport is restricted and some drivers abandoned trucks full of produce in the middle of interstate highways. Markets ran short on supplies as a result.
Read more on WBCSD’s article on the “Impact of COVID-19 on smallholder farmers” found here:
Author: Camryn Thomas

South-Asian Countries Have a Lower Coronavirus Case-Count

Slum dwellers stand in marked circles as they queue to receive relief material during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in Kolkata on April 30, 2020. (Photo by Dibyangshu SARKAR / AFP) (Photo by DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP via Getty Images)
Residents in Kolkata, India, line up to receive relief packages on April 30.

As reported recently in Foreign Policy magazine, the countries making up South Asia account for 25 percent of the world’s population, yet only 2 percent of the total confirmed coronavirus infections. Months after the first recorded case in the region, South Asia has only roughly 60,000 confirmed cases. The US has over a million confirmed cases, while Spain and Italy each are hovering just under a quarter-million.

From the article:

Parsing the numbers. South Asia’s relatively low case numbers are a bit of a puzzle, especially given high population density and poor health care systems across the region. An immediate reaction is to call into question its testing capacity. India has so far conducted only 830,201 tests, or 614 for every 1 million people—among the lowest rates of testing in the world. But if India’s low rate of testing were hiding a massive outbreak, it would show up in other ways. Only 4 percent of India’s coronavirus tests have returned positive, compared with around 17 percent in the United States, implying that the virus is less widespread in India.

Another indicator of a larger outbreak would be the number of deaths. But here the data also shows South Asia in a favorable light. While the United States has recorded more than 60,000 deaths from COVID-19, India counts only 1,079 so far. Those numbers are likely higher—only one-fifth of deaths in India tend to be medically certified—but it is not as if there has been a massive surge in hospital admissions.

Using India’s data as a proxy for the region, the likely takeaway would be that South Asian countries have either succeeded in flattening their curves for now or that they are still in the early stages of their outbreaks. If it’s the latter, then the current state of lockdown ensures the coronavirus won’t spread too rapidly.

What are South Asian countries doing right? What should Western countries learn from them in order to stop the spread of the pandemic?

Read more here:

A Coronavirus Mystery: Why Are There So Few Cases in South Asia?

Author: Camryn Thomas