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Global inequality in a time of pandemic

Summary:
From Jayati Ghosh and issue 93 of RWER A global pandemic is a particularly bad time to be reminded of existing inequalities. But there is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the extent of inequalities between and within countries. Whatever may be the fond sentiments expressed by at least some global leaders, we are clearly not “all in this together”. It is true that in principle, a virus is no respecter of class or other socio-economic distinctions: it enters human hosts without checking for such attributes. And the rapid global spread of this particular virus has shown that it is no respecter of national borders either, which points to the more fundamental truth that as long as anyone anywhere has a contagious disease, everyone everywhere is under threat. This should

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from Jayati Ghosh and issue 93 of RWER

A global pandemic is a particularly bad time to be reminded of existing inequalities. But there is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the extent of inequalities between and within countries. Whatever may be the fond sentiments expressed by at least some global leaders, we are clearly not “all in this together”. It is true that in principle, a virus is no respecter of class or other socio-economic distinctions: it enters human hosts without checking for such attributes. And the rapid global spread of this particular virus has shown that it is no respecter of national borders either, which points to the more fundamental truth that as long as anyone anywhere has a contagious disease, everyone everywhere is under threat. This should have made it obvious that ensuring universal access to health care and prevention is not about compassion, but about the survival of all. Unfortunately, that obvious truth is still not adequately recognised, mainly because existing structures of authority and power imbalances ensure that the rich and powerful continue to be more protected from both health risks and material privation.

Diseases tend to strike people differently depending not just on the strength of public health systems, but on existing fissures in society: of class, race and ethnicity, gender, caste and other divisions. There are poverty traps caused by negative feedback loops between the squalor associated with income poverty and infectious diseases. In unequal societies, poor and socially disadvantaged groups are both more likely to be exposed to Covid-19 and more likely to die from it, because the ability to take preventive measures, susceptibility to disease and access to treatment all vary greatly according to income, assets, occupation, location, and the like. That is why, even in rich countries like the United States, it has been found that death rates from coronavirus for blacks are nearly three times greater than those for white people (APM Research, 2020) and in some states, the ratio is as high as 6 or 7. In developing countries, such divisions are often even sharper. Perhaps even worse, the governments’ containment policies for Covid-19 within countries have also shown extreme class bias, with possibly the most egregious example coming from India, where migrant workers have been at the receiving end of a particularly brutal yet ineffective lockdown that failed to control the virus yet devastated livelihoods, especially of informal workers (Stranded Workers Action Network 2020).  read more

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