Digest: COVID-19 research from around the world

July 20, 2020

From April to August of 2020, IDRC produced a periodic digest of annotated online literature to inform the Centre’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the spirit of sharing knowledge with our colleagues worldwide, these digests are available on our website.

IDRC/CRDI

The digest has a global scope and presents information related to COVID-19 that could be of interest to international development researchers and practitioners. The literature is organized by geographic and thematic focus areas, including gender, economic impact, health systems, technology, data mobilization, and more. The articles appear in the language in which they were originally published. 

While IDRC considers these periodic digests to be informative, the Centre does not endorse the content or confirm its accuracy. Readers are asked to use their own discretion and to contact the source publication with questions or comments.

IDRC Digest: Online COVID-19 resources (as of 17 July 2020)

Note: An * indicates an IDRC partner or grantee and   indicates an article published in French or Spanish.

Africa

IDRC partner the African Centre for Economic Transformation (AERC) has co-authored an article* reflecting on the potential benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement to reduce the economic impact of COVID-19 across Africa and suggesting ways in which the agreement could be retooled to support the pandemic response. This article explores the ways in which technology — especially drones and mobile phones — are supporting COVID-19 response and recovery activities in Africa. Integrated responses to environmental challenges and the pandemic are arising, including a social enterprise in Uganda making face shields out of plastic waste. This peer-reviewed article in Energy Research & Social Science reviewed COVID-19 energy sector responses in Africa and found that most were focused on short-term relief measures, such as VAT exemptions on electricity bills and the provision of free electricity. The authors urge African governments to take advantage of the opportunity to use pandemic response measures to drive the transition to clean energy. Meanwhile, this article draws on evidence from the Ebola epidemic to make the case for governments to include solar energy mini-grids and other clean energy sources for healthcare facilities as they design their coronavirus recovery packages.

Asia

This Asian Development Bank monthly brief examines the vulnerability of Asian banks to US dollar funding risks during the pandemic and suggests ways for policymakers to support financial stability. The Center for Strategic & International Studiesblog provides a brief overview of the most recent, and first ever, virtual ASEAN summit where an ASEAN COVID-19 response fund was established. A peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Epidemiology and Public Health Reviews examined trends and differences in the average cumulative incidence and mortality rates of COVID-19 cases and deaths among 11 Asian nations, where malaria is endemic, and compared these trends and differences to 11 western nations. The study concludes that there may be natural immunity against
COVID-19 infection in populations that have a longstanding history of widespread exposure to malarial infections, suggesting that these populations may be a valuable resource for development of effective vaccines and serological agents for the prevention and therapy of COVID-19.

Latin America and the Caribbean

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) analyzes data on excess mortality which suggests that the actual death toll from COVID-19 in the region is much higher than is currently reported in official statistics. Migrants are also disproportionately affected by COVID-19 in Latin America. The United Nations has published a policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on Latin America and the Caribbean, covering policy responses that align with the sustainable development goals; a summary is also available. Although the pandemic will generate the largest economic downturn of the century in the region, countries are investing in scientific research on the virus. The UNDP has published two briefs — the first highlights ways in which COVID-19 has impacted the multidimensional poverty context of El Salvador and the second outlines COVID-19 vulnerability and policy options in Colombia. An Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) brief highlights opportunities to promote sustainability and resilience through recovery measures for the tourism sector in the region while enhancing diversification. This peer-reviewed article in Revista Estudos Feministas analyzes the emergency COVID-19 financial policies deployed by international financial institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, in Latin American states from a from a human rights and feminist economy perspective.

Middle East and North Africa

The Forced Migration Review has published an article, co-authored by the Local Engagement Refugee Research Network* (LERRN), highlighting the localized responses of, and support by, refugees for refugees during the pandemic in East Africa and the Middle East. This Middle East Monitor article reports on the Jordanian Ministry of Health’s ban on smoking in closed public spaces due to the impacts COVID-19 can have on smokers and second-hand smokers. This move follows an article in The Guardian featuring IDRC partner Rima Nakkash,* associate professor of public health at the American University of Beirut, on the growing problem of nicotine use in the country. A report* on the Economic Research Forum’s website analyzes the myriad ways in which the pandemic has exacerbated poverty and inequality in the region due to long-standing weak political, economic, and governance structures. An article on openDemocracy describes how the pandemic has magnified migrant exploitation, discrimination, and vulnerability in the region.

Food security

A University World News’ article explores how COVID-19 is a triple threat to food security in Africa and proposes measures for a continent-wide response. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has published an episode of their podcast series profiling young people from around the world, from farmers to chefs, and how they have found different strategies to cope with the pandemic while addressing food insecurity. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) organized a policy seminar* on social safety nets to protect food security and nutrition during COVID-19, profiling how countries such as Bangladesh and Ethiopia have responded. This peer-reviewed article in Food Security examines how Singapore, as a small island state reliant on food imports for 90% of its needs, undertook a number of strategic policy initiatives and new measures to increase the stability of imports, increase self-production, and reduce food waste during the pandemic. The author concludes that Singapore offers lessons for other small island states on ways to improve food security.

Health systems and responses

The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General has announced the initiation of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response to evaluate the world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This commentary in The Lancet describes how the severity of the pandemic is being compounded by the neglect of Brazil’s community health workers, who have not been provided with clear guidance about their role in the COVID-19 response. An article from WHO Africa addresses the social stigma associated with COVID-19 affecting healthcare workers in South Sudan. Meanwhile, a study in the Journal of Public Health and Epidemiology has examined the effects of COVID-19 on healthcare practice, medical education, and pre-medical educational experiences.

Data, surveillance, and AI

An International Journal of Pervasive Computing and Communications paper proposes a methodology to track COVID-19 zones through geo-fencing techniques. At the same time, this article provides a brief overview of issues related to telemedicine, privacy, and information security in the age of COVID-19, while Forbes Africa has published an article on how COVID-19 contact tracing apps could be turned into tools for domestic abuse.

Development and research

South-South Galaxy, a UN global knowledge-sharing and partnership-brokering platform, has mapped health authorities and their efforts to combat COVID-19 in the Global South. A position paper in The Lancet explores the psychological, social, and neuroscientific effects of COVID-19 and sets out immediate priorities and longer-term strategies for mental health science research. This perspectives piece from Deloitte outlines the impact of COVID-19 on international development organizations, providing guidance for governments and international development donors. Recognizing that the elderly have borne the brunt of COVID-19 in lower- and middle-income countries, a BMJ editorial suggests that a global expert group on older people should be formed to provide guidance and support the response in both residential facilities and home settings, which would also provide an opportunity to challenge the notion that global health priority-setting is an institutionally ageist process. The World Bank suggests that the pandemic is an opportunity to build legitimacy and trust in public institutions. Finally, a peer-reviewed paper in Policy and Society analyzes variations in state responses to COVID-19 and the conditions that shaped them. It finds that responses were shaped by the opportunity and capacity each government had to learn from previous pandemics as well as their capacity to operationalize and build political support for the standard portfolio of policy measures deployed to deal with the crisis.

Economic impact, fiscal response, and financing the global response

An Institute of Security Studies (ISS) article discusses the G20’s Debt Service Suspense Initiative, aimed at making funds available for developing countries to spend on pandemic relief and response measures. Devex has published an interactive dashboard detailing the US$20.3 trillion that has been committed to the COVID-19 response between January 1 and July 12, and users can access the data by donor, region, and focus area analyses. Meanwhile, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) discusses the pandemic’s consequences on financing for sustainable development in low- and middle-income countries and warns that external private finance inflows to developing economies could drop by US$700 billion in 2020 compared to 2019 levels, exceeding the immediate impact of the 2008 global financial crisis by 60%. This exacerbates the risk of major development setbacks that would increase vulnerability to future pandemics and climate change, highlighting the need for actors in development finance to collaborate closely in order to build back better for a more resilient world. Recognizing that the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 has placed further pressures on justice systems around the world, Pathfinders has published a policy brief which presents strategies for how justice systems can help instead of hindering economic recovery and how justice leaders can take action to reshape justice systems and support more inclusive, sustainable, and resilient patterns of growth.

Gender

Intersectionality

An article in Global Public Health provides specific recommendations for an intersectional approach to addressing COVID-19, noting that using a gender lens alone, without understanding other structural factors, can obscure the various forms of oppression that intersect to create multiplicative disadvantage. Instead, an intersectionality approach encourages understanding of the dimensions of power, historical structural inequalities, and the roles of social determinants and lived experience to inform a multidimensional and gender-informed response. A commentary on a similar theme was published last month in Policy Options, which notes that Canada has a ready policy tool, namely the Gender-Based Analysis plus (or GBA+), for provincial ministries of health to carry out intersectional analysis on health responses to COVID-19. An Amnesty International blog post notes that a human rights response to COVID-19 must include an intersectional approach which recognizes the specific impacts of the pandemic on LGBTI people, and the need for specific actions to ensure that the pandemic response does not exacerbate discrimination and further inequalities. Finally, a joint statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and the Platform of Independent Expert Mechanisms on Discrimination and Violence against Women (EDVAW Platform) calls upon states to take a gender- sensitive intersectional approach in their responses to COVID-19, and puts forth a series of measures to help combat the pandemic of gender-based violence during the COVID-19 crisis.

Gender, climate change and COVID-19

A think-piece by UN Women explores the links between, and differentiated impacts of, climate change and COVID-19 with gender as a key factor. It notes that the climate crisis is continuing to unfold through the pandemic and that both have disproportionate impacts on women and girls. It calls for ensuring that post-COVID economic recovery packages account for climate change while upholding gender equality and social justice. On a similar theme, a recording of a webinar on gender-just climate resilience in the COVID-19 response, hosted by CARE as part of London Climate Action Week 2020, is now available. Speakers noted that recovery measures and stimulus packages have significant potential to jointly address COVID-19 and climate crises by accelerating the shift from fossil fuels to renewable energies to build resilience and address gender inequality. Doing so would require women, particularly those most affected by climate change and COVID-19, to have a meaningful voice in shaping these policies and spending decisions.

IDRC Digest: Online COVID-19 resources (as of 3 July 2020)

Note: An * indicates an IDRC partner or grantee and  ‡ indicates an article published in French or Spanish.

Africa

Policymakers and researchers tracking the impacts of COVID-19 and control measures have focused mostly on urban areas, where the disease can spread rapidly. This post* from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) draws attention to the distinct challenges facing rural areas and outlines ways to ensure high-quality governance and services critical to rural livelihoods during the crisis. The pandemic has set off the first recession in sub-Saharan Africa in 25 years and this article argues that Africa will need a new generation of educated young farmers to transform the continent’s food security and fortunes, as well as new strategies for economic diversification. With the imposition of border closures and strict migration measures, there have been major disruptions in Africa’s global supply chains with adverse impacts on employment and poverty. This commentary argues that promoting trade with a more regionalized focus, consistent with the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, should be explored as a way to limit the dependence of African economies on external funding. The role of women’s leadership in the pandemic is also gaining attention as women health ministers have played and continue to play a vital role in the crisis response in Africa, creating a case study for the gendered effects of leadership through the pandemic.

Asia

The Center for Strategic and International Studies publishes a tracker on COVID-19 cases and responses in Southeast Asia. A peer-reviewed article in Paediatric Respiratory Reviews provides an in-depth look at the impact of COVID-19 across the Asia-Pacific, including lessons learned. This Asian Development Bank brief outlines the implications of the pandemic for food security in Asia and the Pacific and suggests policy responses. This research article analyzes why and how pandemics may expose uneven socioeconomic geographies of vulnerability and risk in Cambodia and Myanmar in particular. The Diplomat offers ongoing coverage of COVID-19 in Asia, including how the pandemic has exacerbated gender inequality in Nepal. The Council on Foreign Relations details a spike in cases in South Asia, while a working paper by the Financial Access Initiative analyzes the link between migration and the diffusion of COVID-19 in India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

Latin America and the Caribbean

As the new COVID-19 epicentre, Latin America and the Caribbean now faces severe economic impacts. The BBC highlights the latest COVID-19 numbers in Latin America and outlines five contributing factors that made the region the epicentre of the pandemic. A World Bank Development blog takes an in-depth look at the pandemic’s effects on entrenched inequalities in Latin America. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) have proposed ten urgent measures against extreme poverty and hunger in the region. The Centro Latino Americano para el Desarrollo Rural (RIMISP)* published a socioeconomic analysis on the impact of COVID-19 on equitable access to water. Devex looks at the interaction between the pandemic and peacefulness in South America. The Dialogue provides broad analysis of domestic violence in the region during the pandemic and what interventions have been carried out in response.

Middle East and North Africa

The Middle East Institute has released a podcast on the gendered impact of COVID-19 across the Middle East and North Africa, and its effects on the region’s health, education, politics, and economy. A study finds that the pandemic and a collapsing Lebanese economy have negatively affected quality of life in the country, with day workers most heavily impacted. IDRC grantee the Centre for Lebanese Studies, with the support of Carleton University’s Local Engagement Refugee Research Network, released a report on the effects of COVID-19 on education access by Palestinian refugees in Jordan, making recommendations for future interventions in the short-, medium- and long-term. The Carnegie Endowment for Peace has published an article* on how COVID-19, plummeting oil prices, and a global shift towards renewable energy supplies has affected the Gulf states’ political and economic influence in the region. Register now for the Economic Research Forum’s 26th Annual Conference. Webinars* will be held on July 8 on topics ranging from the region’s defense spending budgets, multi-purpose cash assistance in Lebanon, and domestic and international Syrian migration.

Food security

Fears over the impact of COVID-19 on Africa’s food security have started to materialize as the continent witnesses rising food prices due to interrupted supply chains, locust swarms affecting crops, and diminishing global demand for production. This blog post from The Brookings Institution highlights these challenges and provides recommendations for supporting the resiliency of African food systems. The United Nations has released a policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on food security and nutrition with three main findings: first, there is a need to mobilize to save lives and livelihoods, focusing attention where the risk is most acute; second, to strengthen social protection systems for nutrition; and third, to invest in a sustainable future, including transforming food systems so they work better with nature and for the climate.

Health systems and responses

The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a technical guidance note which aims to help primary healthcare services adapt to address COVID-19 more effectively. The guidance is based on a systematic review of the best available evidence and emergent country practices in response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the WHO European Region. This article proposes the creation of a Right to Health Capacity Fund (R2HCF) as a central institution of a reimagined global health architecture developed in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. The R2HCF would help ensure the strong health systems required to prevent disease outbreaks from becoming devastating global pandemics as well as universal health coverage that would encompass even the most marginalized populations.

Data, surveillance, and AI

A bibliometric study assessed the scholarly development and prominent research domains in applying AI technologies in COVID-19 research and found that most articles were produced in the US and China whereas developing countries were underrepresented among contributing nations. This article outlines seven significant applications of AI during the COVID-19 pandemic, while early research into how AI and machine learning can be used in COVID-19 detection shows promising results. This journal commentary probes the intersection between COVID-19 management strategies and technical disruptors, such as robotics and AI, in urban pandemic control using examples from China.

Development and research

This peer-reviewed article argues for a global, rather than international, development paradigm, using the COVID-19 pandemic as a prime example of a development challenge for all countries, namely the failure of public health as a global public good. The authors examine the implications of the pandemic across four themes: global value chains, digitalization, debt, and climate change, and conclude that development studies must adapt to a very different context from when the field emerged in the mid-20th century. Digital Science has released a report highlighting global research landscape trends and changes in research culture due to COVID-19, including a density map of global COVID-19 paper production. Research data suggests that people from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups in the UK and Black, Hispanic, and Native American groups in the US are disproportionately at risk of severe COVID-19 complications and deaths. Not enough is known about the causes of this increased risk, which points to the underrepresentation of these minority ethnic groups in research.

Economic impact, fiscal response, and financing the global response

A United Nations University report highlights changes in the distribution of global poverty as a result of COVID-19. It analyzes the incidence, intensity, and severity of poverty in developing countries, and predicts a dramatic spike in poverty rates in some of the middle-income countries that have made significant progress in poverty reduction in recent years. This comprehensive e-book from the Graduate Institute in Geneva summarizes early findings on the economic impacts of the pandemic on developing and emerging economies. In light of the vulnerabilities of global supply chains to shocks like the COVID-19 pandemic, this article argues for a move toward more multilateral cooperation as a means of mitigating the risks associated with globalization. This London School of Economics* blog post highlights features of impact bonds, including cross-sector collaboration, robust data systems, high transparency, and impact-focused funding that make them valuable in the context of the intermediate response to COVID-19 and the post-pandemic recovery.

Gender

An emerging theme over the past weeks is the how the pandemic is amplifying gender inequalities in academia. A BMJ Global Health commentary highlights how women only account for a third of all authors who have published papers related to COVID-19. In general, women are under-represented as authors of research papers in many scientific areas, particularly in senior authorship positions. These gender biases hint at wider gender inequalities in the global response to the pandemic, which may reduce the chance of dealing with it robustly and speedily. In the same vein, correspondence submitted to The Lancet describes how the productivity and scientific output of female academics are disproportionately affected during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to loss of women’s scientific expertise in the public realm. A research paper published on Cornell University’s arXiv open archive analyzes data to test the hypothesis that the pandemic has negatively affected the productivity of female researchers, finding that the fraction of women publishing during the pandemic dropped significantly across disciplines and research topics after controlling for temporal trends. The impact is particularly pronounced for biomedical papers related to COVID-19 research, and the gender disparities are exacerbated in poorer countries even though these countries had less of a gender gap in research prior to the pandemic. An opinion piece in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences examines ways in which COVID-19 is amplifying known barriers to women’s career advancement in academia. The authors propose actionable solutions, which include the formation of a Pandemic Response Faculty Fellow or Pandemic Faculty Merit Committee, new/revised tenure and promotion metrics, and a framework to ensure that the new metrics and policies are adopted across the institution.

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