Weekly read: COVID-19 research from around the world

May 25, 2020

IDRC is producing a weekly digest of annotated online literature to inform the Centre’s own response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the spirit of sharing knowledge with our colleagues worldwide, these digests will be available on our website on a weekly basis.

IDRC/CRDI

The digest will have a global scope and present information related to COVID-19 that could be of interest to international development researchers and practitioners. The literature will be 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 weekly 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 22 May 2020)

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

Africa

In The Lancet Voice, Yap Boum, of Médecins Sans Frontières, and Zoe Mullan, Editor-in-Chief of The Lancet Global Health, discuss the specific challenges facing sub-Saharan Africa in addressing the pandemic. A rapid online cross-sectional survey* assessed the perceived severity of COVID-19 among the adult population in the Gambia, which can inform communication strategies for public health. The effect of the pandemic on education is a serious concern in Africa, with IDRC partner Mawazo Institute identifying women and mid-career respondents to be the most likely to be affected in a survey of COVID-19 impacts on higher education* in Kenya. As web-based and mobile technologies are sought out to facilitate education in lockdown conditions, debates over the role of “EdTech” have emerged, with conflicting evidence on its effectiveness and rates of uptake in Africa. The World Economic Forum proposes that youth and technology can drive Africa’s COVID-19 response. In this blog,* authors discuss policy measures to help reduce formal sector employees’ income losses from reduced hours and wages as a result of the pandemic.

The COVID-19 Africa Rapid Grant Fund was launched this week by South Africa’s National Research Foundation, in partnership with the Science Granting Councils Initiative in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa’s Department of Science and Innovation, IDRC, Fonds de Recherche du Québec, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, the United Kingdom Research and Innovation through the Newton Fund, and SGCI participating councils across 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. The Fund seeks to contribute to the African regional and continental response to the COVID-19 pandemic and covers three strands: 1) research, 2) science engagement: call to science and health journalists and communicators, and 3) science engagement: call to science advisers.

Asia

On May 12, India announced a major stimulus package worth 10% of the country’s GDP, which includes incentives for domestic manufacturing. On May 20, Cyclone Amphan battered eastern India and Bangladesh, devastating coastal villages and leaving millions without power; evacuation and relief procedures were made more complicated by COVID-19 precautions. Read about Malaysia's response to COVID-19 and the role of its migrant workforce. Nay Yan Oo worked with students from the University of Yangon to compare lockdown policies in several countries to understand policy implications for Myanmar. In this article, five policy recommendations on age and gender, to be considered in COVID-19 responses, are outlined to prevent further setbacks on the path towards gender equality in Asia. The Asia Research Institute, based in Singapore, has launched a research blog to curate content at the intersection of COVID-19 and religious communities in Asia.

Latin America and the Caribbean

The Guardian reports on the strain on Latin American health systems as Brazil and Peru are badly hit by the pandemic. In Chile, protesters and police clash over food shortages during lockdown. The Director of the Pan American Health Organization has called for improved access to effective public health measures, and other priorities, to better serve vulnerable populations in the Americas. Carolina Trivelli, Principal Investigator at the Institute of Peruvian Studies and former Minister of Development and Social Inclusion of Peru, writes* that improving financial inclusion for women is essential, since it ensures access to emergency support during pandemics such as COVID-19. UNESCO hosted a webinar with Ministers of Education in the region, discussing considerations for the reopening of schools based on public health sector evidence. A new joint report from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean and the International Labour Organization analyzes labour challenges in Latin America in the wake of COVID-19; the full report, and supplementary information, is available here. A newly created group of experts from Latin America* aims to exchange ideas and knowledge about the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 in the region and support governments in the design of responses that protect people’s health and livelihoods, and promote greater equity. This peer-reviewed case study and protocol, published in The Lancet, examines voluntary collective isolation as a response to COVID-19 for Indigenous populations in the Bolivian Amazon.

Middle East and North Africa

An op-ed takes an in-depth look at the issues Libyan women face while stuck between conflict and the pandemic, highlighting the importance of supporting gender-inclusive responses in times of crises in fragile contexts. The Arab Reform Initiative* analyzes the government and private sector responses to COVID-19 in the context of Tunisia’s economic and social challenges, as well as existing state-business relations, and offers suggestions to protect vulnerable communities and support locally emerging solidarity initiatives. The Lebanese American University* is convening a webinar series called Knowledge Unlocked, with an episode on May 28 that will discuss the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 globally, regionally, and locally. This article profiles the National Institute for Solidarity with Women in Distress, one of many local NGOs in Morocco which have stepped up their humanitarian efforts to help the most vulnerable cope with the economic fallout from the pandemic. The Guardian travels south to Petra, the historic UNESCO World Heritage site, and documents the impact COVID-19 has had on the tourism sector, the ripple effects it has had on the people and neighbouring communities that depend on tourism, and the Jordanian government’s response in support of an ailing sector.

Food security

The World Bank announced a US $500 million response program to provide immediate assistance to vulnerable farmers, herders, and rural households in Africa and the Middle East to overcome the double impact of COVID-19 and the worst locust swarms seen in decades. The International Potato Center has published an interview that discusses how COVID-19 is affecting food systems in Asia. An article* co-authored by IDRC grantee Ulbad P. Tougan argues that it is necessary for sub-Saharan countries to take preventative measures against malnutrition and starvation caused by the pandemic, for example through encouraging healthy and balanced diets, improved food hygiene, intensification of agricultural and food production, and improved governance of nutrition and food security.

Health systems and responses

This feature report, commissioned by the British Medical Journal, explores how healthcare responses to COVID-19 may be worsening the threat of antimicrobial resistant bacteria and other superbugs, as many patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 receive antibiotics to keep secondary bacterial infections in check. This blog post,* co-authored by IDRC grantee Chimaraoke Izugbara, calls for stronger action against bogus COVID-19 cure claims, which delay treatment-seeking and promote reckless behaviour that could result in deaths. It calls on countries and national health bodies to integrate traditional healers, faith leaders, and community principals in their COVID-19 response strategies. A commentary in The Lancet calls for strong and swift action to prevent increasing violence against healthcare workers worldwide. Although the reasons for such violence vary according to context, the authors note that failures to adequately provide PPE and other safety measures for healthcare workers has meant that thousands of them have contracted the virus themselves and are thus perceived as public health hazards. This has generated violence against healthcare workers, exacerbating the already unprecedented stress and burnout that they and their families are experiencing during this pandemic.

Data, surveillance, and AI

The Surgo Foundation has created a dashboard, using Google Maps data, to track social distancing in real time. The aim of the tool is to help governments understand how their populations are reacting to lockdowns, researchers to identify how social distancing is impacting the spread of the disease, and NGOs and the private sector in directing resources to areas that are at high risk of an increase in caseloads because people are not distancing from one another. This letter to the editor describes the different roles AI is playing in response to the pandemic, and highlights that the role of AI is noticeably higher during COVID-19 when compared to previous pandemics. Meanwhile, a letter to the editor of The American Journal of Bioethics describes the multiple ethical challenges of using technology for early case identification at the population level, and calls for an ethical framework for digital epidemiology and technological interventions to support contact tracing in public health emergencies. This perspective piece from the OECD’s Forum Network discusses how the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated the importance of network resilience and quality, and calls on governments to use this opportunity to define and implement policies to ensure that everyone can access the benefits of digitalization.

Development and research

IDRC partner Dr. Gina Crivello* analyzes a range of secondary societal impacts of the pandemic on young people in lower- and middle-income countries, which could exacerbate existing inequalities. The United Nations Development Programme reports that human development is on course to decline this year for the first time since 1990, and proposes key interventions such as closing the digital divide to support continued learning. The full COVID-19 and Human Development publication is available here. The World Resources Institute held a webinar to garner expert views on how to “build back better” through increasing the resilience of vulnerable populations. This comprehensive journal article in Ethnobiology and Conservation explores an ethical approach to integrating research and knowledge systems to provide holistic responses to COVID-19. Meanwhile, an article in Science discusses how scientists are unable to keep pace with the sheer volume of research papers on COVID-19, which are being published at an unprecedented rate. To help address this, hundreds of teams around the world are pursuing one of two strategies: creating easily accessible paper collections, including a few carefully curated collections designed to highlight strong papers, and building automated search tools that use AI technologies to cut through the noise.

Economic impact, fiscal response, and financing the global response

Anthropologist Arjun Appadurai predicts that globalization will not end with the pandemic, but some of its characteristics may shift and even deepen, as the globalized model of corporate collaboration is implicated in the pandemic response from producing protective equipment to researching and developing vaccines. The role of central banks, modern monetary theory, and national debt are re-evaluated in the context of financing ongoing pandemic responses across the world, especially in developing countries where there is limited fiscal space to enact the large stimulus and economic support measures adopted by developed countries. This limited space highlights the need for context-specific response measures in developing contexts that take costs and trade-offs into account, rather than simply replicating the responses of developed countries. The nexus between the pandemic and climate change continues to be explored, as climate shocks, disease, and economic effects of response measures seem to be mutually compounding, and the need for compound risk preparedness strategies becomes increasingly evident.

Gender

Data

UN Women’s gender data hub, Women Count, has published two gender data stories of note this month. The first details how COVID-19 exposes the harsh realities of gender inequalities in slums, as women aged 15 to 49 are overrepresented in urban slums and slum-like settings in 80% of 59 developing countries. These women tend to be worse off than their male slum and female non-slum counterparts in access to employment, health facilities, secure housing, and completion of their education. COVID-19 and its aftermath are only expected to worsen such outcomes and increase extreme poverty. The second proposes that policymakers focus on three key priorities to contain COVID-19’s impact on informal women workers, namely: extending access to social protection, ensuring the rights and safety of essential informal workers, and supporting informal workers’ organizations.

Differentiated impacts

Earlier this month, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs published a policy brief on the impacts of COVID-19 on women and girls with disabilities, providing guidance for governments and other stakeholders to adopt inclusive and accessible measures to mitigate these impacts. A commentary in the International Journal for Equity in Health describes emerging trends that show women humanitarian health workers may be at even greater risk during this pandemic, with reports of female frontline health providers being harassed or expelled, while gendered imbalances mean that male workers are prioritized for personal protective equipment. Given that the frontline humanitarian workforce is primarily composed of women, their voices and needs must be adequately represented and prioritized in organizational policies and in response planning. A briefing paper by the London School of Economics and Political Science’s Centre for Economic Performance analyzes survey data from the UK to draw lessons on work, care, and gender in times of COVID-19. It finds that women are more likely to report job losses than men during the crisis, suggesting that remote work opportunities only partially offset the differential exposure of men and women to the lockdown. Following the closure of nurseries and schools, women are also likely to take over a larger share of the increased childcare needs.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization has published an advocacy brief on gender and COVID-19 with six key asks for member states to consider: 1) collect sex- and age-disaggregated data on COVID-19; 2) include responses to violence against women as an essential service within COVID-19 responses; 3) maintain availability of and access to sexual and reproductive health services; 4) take into account the specific needs of women who constitute the majority of frontline health and social workers; 5) remove financial and other barriers to COVID-19 testing and treatment services, making them free at the point of use; and 6) stress that health is a human right, ensure that emergency responses to COVID-19 are inclusive and non-discriminatory, and avoid excessive use of emergency powers to regulate day-to-day life.

IDRC Digest: Online COVID-19 resources (as of 15 May 2020)

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

Africa

The Partnership for Evidence-Based Response to COVID-19, a consortium of global public health organizations and private sector firms, brings together findings from a survey conducted between March 29 and April 17 in 28 cities across 20 African Union Member States in this report. The paper synthesizes epidemiological measures of disease transmission and indicators of population movements and unrest, among others, providing a first-of-its-kind snapshot of baseline conditions in Africa during this rapidly evolving pandemic. Attention to context-specific needs on the continent is required, including the hazards of refugee* and informal urban settlements, where access to food, water, and sanitation are already challenging. New strategies for balancing measures to contain the virus and support vulnerable people emerge and are refined, including policy guidance* with input from IDRC grantees. Changing border policies, including closures imposed by 25 African countries over 10 days in March, are analyzed by IDRC grantees at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) who recommend reconsidering curfews* and hard closures which can jeopardize food security, and particularly affect the most vulnerable.

Asia

The Diplomat explores how the pandemic will affect China’s Belt and Road Initiative. This peer-reviewed synthesis presents the impacts of COVID-19 on the agri-food sector and resulting policy responses in Asian Productivity Organization countries. This article looks at how COVID-19 could affect the energy sector in Asia. Dentons has published detailed country-by-country overviews of impacts on the retail sector, including ones for China and Singapore. The World Economic Forum (WEF) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) point to an emerging set of policy responses targeting the informal sector potentially bringing about a “new deal” for Asia’s informal workers. The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction has compiled a set of COVID-19 webinars specific to the region and broad set of policy briefs, including a publication and corresponding webinar on combatting the dual challenges of climate-related disasters and COVID-19 in the Asia-Pacific. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has published a detailed report on the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 on the Asia-Pacific region, covering value chains, social crises, gender impacts, and financial instability.

Latin America and the Caribbean

A compilation of economic measures to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in Latin America is available through Latin Finance. This OECD blog post makes the case for place- and cluster-based microeconomic policies to repair the damage to labour markets in the region. This International Journal for Equity in Health article outlines the specific challenges Indigenous communities in Latin America face and sets out policy recommendations. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) calls on governments in the region to provide a basic emergency income to the entire population living in poverty in 2020, among other medium- and long-term coordinated measures to counter the social impact of the crisis. COVID-19 poses a major threat to Caribbean States achieving the sustainable development goals by 2030, says ECLAC’s Executive Secretary. The UNDP is publishing a policy series to promote a collective reflection on the response to the pandemic, with specific focus on Venezuela, Honduras, Peru, and Argentina. Notably, according to the WEF, Costa Rica has become one of the most successful nations in the fight against COVID-19.

Middle East and North Africa

In its Spring 2020 edition of the Iraq Economic Monitor, the World Bank discusses the recent economic and policy developments in Iraq and highlights some of the main macroeconomic policy issues facing the country as it manages a number of challenges including the COVID-19 pandemic. As Lebanon moves in and out of lockdown, Human Rights Watch has published a report calling on the government to better accommodate people with disabilities. An interview published by IDRC partner the Lebanon Centre for Policy Studies* provides suggestions on how to strengthen Lebanon’s welfare state and mitigate any further socioeconomic burdens shouldered by the poor. A webinar on May 21, hosted by Lawyers for Justice in Libya and openDemocracy, will address how Libyans can cope while being caught between the pandemic and ongoing armed conflict, and what role international law can play. Mada Masr profiles paramedics on the frontlines of COVID-19 in Egypt and their struggle for improved social safety nets. This short video shows how a family of tamarind juice sellers in Syria continue managing their production and sales despite the coronavirus and ongoing conflict. Algeria is producing rapid test kits for COVID-19. According to the government, these kits will have a detection time of 15 minutes and production capacity is 200,000 units per week. The Australian government has extended an additional contribution to UN Women in response to COVID-19 to provide livelihood opportunities to vulnerable Jordanian and Syrian refugee women.

Food security

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and former Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn Boshe have co-authored an article on the importance of maintaining agricultural trade with Africa, since 65% of the continent’s employment depends on agricultural activities and related crop exports and imports. The authors caution that without market and inputs access, Africa’s small-scale farmers are at most risk of falling into further food insecurity as a result of market interruptions caused by the pandemic. The effects of climate change have already negatively impacted over 3.5 billion people globally who depend on rice production and access. This UNEP article addresses how COVID-19 has reinforced the critical role of rice production in ensuring global food security while combating climate change, and what the Sustainable Rice Platform is doing to aid farmers in these difficult times. Against the backdrop of the pandemic and its impacts on food systems, IFPRI has published its 2020 Global Food Policy Report* detailing their vision for an inclusive global food system. The first section of the report focuses on improving small scale farmers’ and women’s access to inputs and markets, particularly in Africa, and the second section takes a more regional focus with suggestions on achieving an equitable food system. The 2020 Global Nutrition Report provides a new analysis showing that global and national patterns do not reflect the inequalities found within countries, with the most vulnerable being most affected by malnutrition. Although the report was written prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, it underscores the reality that the undernourished and malnourished have weaker immune systems and are at greater risk of severe illness due to the virus. The Montreal Council on Foreign Relations (CORIM) recently hosted a virtual dialogue between IDRC President Jean Lebel and World Food Programme Executive Director David Beasley on how the world’s food crisis is exacerbated by COVID-19.

Health systems and responses

Notably, an academic perspective in The Lancet asks whether current strategies — where policies deemed necessary for the hardest-hit wealthy countries are becoming a one-size-fits-all message for all countries battling COVID-19 — are subverting two core principles of global health: that context matters and that social justice and equity are paramount. They question the appropriateness of wealthy-country strategies being applied to less-resourced countries with distinct population structures, vastly different public health needs, immensely fewer healthcare resources, less participatory governance, massive within-country inequities, and fragile economies. They note that a one-size-fits-all approach to COVID-19 has not only been inequitable in its impact, but is also likely to increase inequalities in the long term.

Meanwhile, the pandemic is changing the face and dynamism of health systems across the globe. Reuters has published a series of graphics in a report on the capacity gaps in Africa’s health systems to deal with the pandemic. This OECD brief focuses on the contribution of migrant doctors and nurses to OECD health systems and how OECD countries have adapted the recognition of foreign credentials to mobilize additional doctors and nurses with foreign degrees in response to COVID-19. It also highlights the potential impact on countries of origin, some of which were already facing severe shortages of skilled health workers before the pandemic, and the need for a global response to the global health worker shortage. This article in The Lancet describes the extensive reorganization of the healthcare system in France, which coordinated efforts between hospital and community primary care to maintain adequate health services in disadvantaged areas at a time of considerable strain. On 12 May, the Canadian government pledged CA $600 million to the third replenishment of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and committed CA $47.5 million annually over four years to support the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

Data, surveillance, and AI

Human Rights Watch has published a detailed Q&A on mobile location data and COVID-19, examining the different ways that governments are using geolocation and proximity information from mobile phones and other devices and the risk they pose to privacy rights. It looks at how this technology has been used by China, Israel, South Korea, the United States, and other governments, and provides recommendations and guidelines to evaluate the human rights risks posed by any given tool or program using mobile location data. Meanwhile, Reuters reports on the race by technologists and health officials around the world to develop smartphone apps for COVID-19 contact tracing. CNET explores how COVID-19 could set a new norm for surveillance and privacy, as the future of surveillance in daily life will be decided in the next few years with public safety and COVID-19 driving the debate. An op-ed discusses how facial recognition technology is spreading in the midst of the pandemic, while varying regulatory approaches by different jurisdictions have caused confusion in uncharted waters.

Development and research

This Development Policy Blog post looks at how COVID-19 could impact the international development sector. A series of UNDP webinars on how the pandemic will affect international cooperation and international development, featuring experts from Southern and Northern think tanks, is available for viewing. A Devex survey found that some development professionals anticipate a reduction in foreign aid, and it outlines a number of steps donors should be taking to better coordinate current funding. The Overseas Development Institute argues that governments should “build back greener” to bring about long-term sustainability.

Economic impact, fiscal response, and financing the global response

The Institute for Development Studies reviewed Public Finance Management (PFM) reforms introduced in developing countries during the Asian financial crisis, global financial crisis, and the commodity price crisis, assessing the role of PFM in setting up fiscal stimulus packages which are effective, efficient, and transparent, and discussing the relevance of the findings for the COVID-19 context. An IMF blog post examines the economic impacts of lockdown and the different strategies used by countries in Asia and Europe to resume economic activity; another provides fiscal policy recommendations for the recovery from COVID-19. On a different note, this article discusses how the pandemic, and the dissolution of the traditional division and hierarchy of labour it has momentarily brought about, are forcing us to interrogate the underpinnings of low-skilled work and to see more clearly the racialized and gendered nature of what we view as unskilled — yet essential — labour.

Gender

Gender-based violence

A BMJ editorial provides an overview of pathways of risk related to gender-based violence (GBV) during the pandemic and how health systems should respond to the parallel epidemic of violence against women. Among others, it calls on governments to include essential services to deal with violence against women in COVID-19 response plans, resource them, and identify strategies to make them accessible during physical distancing measures. An article on The Conversation draws lessons from Ebola on GBV, noting that research has found independent women’s groups to be the single most important factor in addressing violence against women and girls. In light of this, it proposes that women and girls should be involved in the development and delivery of services during COVID-19.

Policy and research

IDRC partner CoreWoman offers a series of policy briefs and webinars* on the gendered impacts of the pandemic, including its latest policy brief* on how COVID-19 is affecting highly feminized economic sectors in Colombia, such as hotels and restaurants, and domestic and beauty services.

The Canadian Institutes for Health Research is funding a research project at the LSE that will conduct a real-time, multi-faceted gender analysis of preparedness and response mechanisms, providing immediate evidence to inform public health responses. The research, which will take place in China, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom, and Canada, aims to enhance efforts to mitigate the social and economic impacts of the outbreak and inform operational responses through the development of practical tools, such as a COVID-19 Gender Matrix, to generate awareness of, and address, gender inequities in real time.

Building back a more gender-equal world

The WEF has called for gender empowerment to be placed at the heart of the global recovery from the pandemic, especially since the pandemic’s long-term economic repercussions are also likely to disproportionately affect women’s productive lives compared to men’s. The specific needs and contributions of women as workers, business owners, and entrepreneurs must be better understood and addressed when developing measures to reactivate the economy. All aspects — from accessing financial rescue packages, credit, and unemployment benefits to removing barriers for women to perform higher-skilled and better-paid jobs — should be considered for the economic recovery to be effective, inclusive, and sustainable. Women Deliver has published 10 recommendations for building a stronger and more gender-equal world post pandemic, including prioritizing and funding primary healthcare and universal health coverage grounded in gender equality and human rights, including sexual and reproductive health and rights. Meanwhile, a commentary in BMJ Global Health notes that the existing lack of diversity and gender representation in decision-making in the COVID-19 response and recovery means that the perspectives of some of the most vulnerable communities are being left out. In addition to being ethical, diverse and gender-inclusive decision-making will yield innovation and knowledge dividends, limit group-think, and promote greater accountability for an adaptive response and resilient recovery to COVID-19.

IDRC Digest: Online COVID-19 resources (as of 8 May 2020)

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

Africa

In its latest weekly conflict and resilience monitor, IDRC grantee the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD) notes that so far there is no correlation between COVID-19 and overall levels of conflict,* and that Africa is more resilient in managing COVID-19 than predicted.* A number of factors have contributed to the continent’s resilience, including learning from the experiences dealing with previous public health emergencies such as cholera, Ebola, HIV/Aids and malaria. Kenya is set to begin clinical trials to determine whether Remdesivir (an antiretroviral drug that was recently approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for emergency treatment of COVID-19), anti-malaria drug Hydroxychloroquine, and Lopinavir/Ritonavir (also used on HIV patients) can effectively treat COVID-19. Researchers at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) have developed a platform to help predict infection trends* in the country, including a dashboard* mapping risk hotspots, a Spatial Real-Time Presumptive COVID-19 Tracker application, and predictive disease models to support government strategies in addressing the pandemic. This blog proposes strategies by which support networks within pastoral communities — beyond state provision of health and social security — can be mobilized quickly, and how these can be structured to respond to uncertainty in times of COVID-19. The CSVR Trauma Clinic highlights the implications of inequality on mental health* in the context of COVID-19 and isolation measures in South Africa.

Asia

Earlier in April, The Diplomat published a high level country-by-country guide on what is happening in East, Southeast, South, and Central Asia. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies offers a similar tracker focusing in on Southeast Asia which includes a map. Institut Montaigne published a comparative overview of the policy responses of China, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, and Taiwan to the pandemic. Singapore's recent uptick in new COVID-19 cases illustrates how migrant workers, also discussed in a Center for Culture-Centered Approach to Research and Evaluation white paper, are more at risk of respiratory disease given their living conditions. The Times of India publishes a live update of key events and initiatives in India including the most recent launch of the National Food Security Act. In Bangladesh, COVID-19 is placing additional pressures on an already struggling economy and specific challenges are being faced in the world's largest refugee camp. On the economy, this analysis looks at how the pandemic will impact supply chains in East Asia in the long run.

Latin America and the Caribbean

Americas Quarterly has produced a special issue on migration within Latin America and how COVID-19 exacerbates existing challenges for policymakers. This Guardian article illustrates how the virus has impacted unresolved social tensions in Chile. In a detailed analysis, RIMISP* published the measures that the governments of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru are implementing to respond to the crisis in terms of protection of household income, employment, and job stability of workers, and micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises. Read about how Latin America’s public health professionals and scientists are collaborating to advance public policies* in the region, by creating an observatory hub for the compilation and analyses of policy and population responses. Southern Voice* held a first virtual conference of Latin American think-tanks on COVID-19 and discussed collective responses to the pandemic from an economic, social, and political perspective; a summary is available. Starting on May 12, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture will be hosting a series of high-level virtual seminars to help identify technological innovations and relevant public policies in the wake of the pandemic in the region.

Middle East and North Africa

COVID-19 cases in the MENA region continue to rise. This website aggregates and breaks down the cases in each country since March. As the crisis threatens to worsen, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization encouraged countries to develop local production as a means to create jobs and boost local income to promote regional stability. The Economic Research Forum, in collaboration with the World Bank, is organizing a webinar* on May 12 to discuss the dual shocks — of COVID-19 and the collapse in oil prices — on economies in the region. Countries in the region have sought innovative ways to maintain the school year for confined youth, while this article profiles the response of Jordan’s education system to COVID-19, stressing the importance of supporting parents and guardians stepping into new roles as educators. There are rising concerns about the potential impact of the pandemic on Yemen, particularly as many UN agencies are preparing to scale down their operations by 75% due to a lack of funding. Several articles address the disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on some of the most vulnerable populations in MENA, such as refugees* and women and girls. In response, HerStory network has established a taskforce of over 300 youth volunteers to monitor mass and social media, gather stories of the gendered impacts of the pandemic, and track occurrences of misinformation and harmful gender stereotyping. A writing contest organized by the Eastern Mediterranean Public Health Network* was launched to encourage public health professionals in the region to submit first hand testimonies.

Food security

This World Bank brief, which is updated frequently, summarizes the evolving global agriculture and food situation during the pandemic. The World Food Programme is making an appeal for increased funding, as more than 20 million people in West Africa alone risk suffering from the socioeconomic impacts of COVID-19 and will struggle to feed themselves in the coming months. This article describes the importance of reliable data and the management of nutrition information systems that the various food aid organizations need to deliver targeted food aid. Last month, this CGIAR* blog explored ways to restructure the global food system to counteract COVID-19’s impact.

Health systems and responses

On May 4, the World Health Organization (WHO) updated its COVID-19 global strategic preparedness and response plan. The WHO also stated that support will be prioritized to countries with weak health systems and significant gaps in preparedness capacity for technical and operational implementation. As the pandemic expands in the Global South, the challenges are even greater for health systems. This Journal of Urban Health article offers practical and policy solutions for addressing the impacts on informal settlements of the Global South, which are the least prepared for the pandemic.

A COVID-19 vaccine for all

This article notes that developing an effective and universally available COVID-19 vaccine is one of the most critical missions of our lifetime, but achieving this will require a fundamentally different approach governed by clear and transparent rules of engagement based on public interest goals, and one that values international collaboration and solidarity, rather than competition between countries. Gavi, the vaccine alliance, has published a proposal for an advance market commitment to ensure that the COVID-19 vaccine, when available, would be accessible to everyone who needs it. It builds on its experience with the 2009 Pneumococcal Advance Market Commitment, which, by agreeing to buy large quantities of vaccines at established prices once the vaccine was licensed, effectively created healthy market dynamics, provided pharmaceutical companies with an incentive to develop and produce suitable vaccines, and guaranteed a sustainable price to provide coverage for anyone that needed it. Meanwhile, concerns have been raised about the inability of countries around the world to properly manufacture, finance, and distribute a COVID-19 vaccine, even if one were to be found by the end of the year.

Data, surveillance, and AI

The number of COVID-19-related deaths across the globe is widely used by governments and the media as a vital measure of the pandemic. Therefore, how we count the number of COVID-19 deaths has significant policy implications. Scientists are exploring whether fitness devices could help track, and even contain, COVID-19. On the other hand, the use of technology in the current global fight against the pandemic and its human rights impacts are particularly important to consider in humanitarian and forced migration contexts.

Development and research

Researchers at Yale combined country-specific economic estimates of the benefits of disease avoidance with an epidemiological model that projects the spread of COVID-19 to analyze whether the benefits of social distancing and suppression vary across high- and low-income countries. They concluded that not only are the epidemiological and economic benefits of social distancing much smaller in poorer countries, such policies may also exact a heavy toll on the poorest and most vulnerable. The Pan American Health Organization has published an analysis encouraging developing country governments to promote health equity, gender and ethnic quality, and human rights in their COVID-19 responses, and calling for research on the social and economic fallout of the pandemic. This post analyzes what research is being carried out in low- and middle-income countries, based on data collected by RECOVR Research Hub. The International Growth Centre has published a policy brief targeting containment strategies and support for vulnerable households in developing countries. How will research-for-development be impacted by the pandemic? This article highlights research funding flows and why research capacity in Africa is ready to meet the COVID-19 challenge. Meanwhile, the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs has published a policy brief on how the pandemic is a wake-up call for better cooperation at the science-policy-society interface, with five recommendations to improve the way in which science and technology are harnessed to resolve global challenges such as the current pandemic. Meanwhile, The New York Times explores the COVID-19 riddle, which has left researchers trying to figure out why the virus is so capricious.

Economic impact, fiscal response, and financing the global response

New research by the University of Oxford’s Institute for New Economic Thinking reviewed over 700 proposed or enacted COVID-19 fiscal stimulus policies and concluded that the next six months will be critical for policy choices to drive long-term reductions in emissions. In particular, rural support spending in low- and middle-income countries is highlighted as a key policy item to support economic recovery and climate change goals in tandem. Academic perspectives illuminate implications of fragmentation and inequality in global governance for the pandemic response, including rising economic nationalism. Cities are playing an increasingly central role in the pandemic response, relying on networks to share knowledge and equipment, growing a new multilateral system, and filling gaps at the state level of global governance.

Gender

Gender-differentiated impacts

The Organization of American States (OAS), through the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM), has published a policy brief on the differential impacts of COVID-19 on women’s lives, with attention to the most vulnerable groups. It proposes guidelines for the design of public policies, based on the principles of equality and non-discrimination and the need to implement affirmative action measures.

Refugees, internally displaced persons, and humanitarian situations

Refugees International has published a brief on COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on displaced women and girls, exacerbating multiple layers of existing vulnerabilities. The brief includes tailored policy recommendations for governments and NGOs. The UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women has released a Rapid Gender Analysis for Cox's Bazar, highlighting that the normative framework that governs the lives of Rohingya refugees unequally affects women and girls by limiting their mobility, their ability to make decisions about their lives, and their access to lifesaving services, and deprioritizes their needs and demands compared to those of men. This is in addition to the fact that the conditions in the camps, including overcrowding, limited sanitation facilities, and an overburdened health system, already make the COVID-19 preparedness and response plan uniquely complex. The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security hosted a webinar, entitled COVID-19: A Gender Perspective on the Growing Humanitarian Crisis, which discussed the ways in which women and girls are both uniquely impacted by and critical to mitigation strategies during this humanitarian crisis. Speakers included the Right Honourable David Miliband, President and CEO, International Rescue Committee, and Ms. Anita Bhatia, Assistant Secretary General of UN Women.

Sexual and reproductive health and rights

Fifty-eight countries, including Canada, issued a joint diplomatic statement on protecting sexual and reproductive health and rights during the COVID-19 crisis, calling on leaders to recognize the central role of Universal Health Coverage in health emergencies — including sexual health services — and the need for robust health systems to save lives.

Data and the digital divide

The Data-Pop Alliance, a collaborative laboratory created by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, MIT Connection Science, and Overseas Development Institute, has published comprehensive data on domestic violence in Mexico during the COVID-19 quarantine, noting that gender-based violence has claimed more women’s lives than COVID-19, and that a prolonged lockdown is already widening gender gap inequalities and increasing violence against women. Meanwhile, an analysis of economic data in Spain reveals that women are more likely than men to have lost their jobs since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, and that two-thirds of Spanish mothers are required to stay at home while social distancing is enforced because they work in non-critical sectors or do not work. On Devex, an article discusses how, without sex- and gender-disaggregated data on COVID-19, we are leaving lifesaving and economy-saving clues on the table. For example, sex-disaggregated data is crucial to illuminating how the risks and efficacy of treatments and vaccines differ between men and women, including during pregnancy. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka and Plan International CEO Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen have published an op-ed calling for action at this important crossroads: governments can either allow the coronavirus crisis “to reinforce the worst impacts of the digital gender divide” or “use the crisis to accelerate change, expand horizons, and get millions of girls and women online.” Noting that girls, women, and marginalized groups are already at a significant disadvantage since they are the least likely to have access to technology, the crisis has made this lack of connectivity even more alarming because so many aspects of daily life are now online.

IDRC Digest: Online COVID-19 resources (as of 1 May 2020)

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

Africa

The African Academy of Sciences has produced a report on research and development goals for COVID-19 in Africa, ranking the primary priorities identified by 275 scientists. The African Union Development Agency has published a response to COVID-19 and other epidemics that outlines plans of action to improve access to sustainable and resilient health services and more broadly to protect Africa’s economic foundations. The head of the Africa CDC calls for global solidarity and a reduction in the protectionism that keeps African countries from purchasing essential diagnostics, noting that testing needs to be scaled up quickly if Africa is to get ahead of the pandemic — since more than 70 countries have imposed restrictions on the export of medical materials. A new modeling analysis by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that malaria could kill 769,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa this year if COVID-19 disrupts prevention and treatment interventions. A commentary in The Lancet discusses how, as COVID-19 spreads on the continent, one-size-fits-all mitigation strategies will not work and the quest for context-appropriate solutions must continue. This article* by IDRC partner Centre for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA) examines the socio-economic cost implications of COVID-19 on the informal sector in Nigeria and recommends actions for the government as well as private sector actors. Southern Voice*, with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), has published a Southern perspective paper* on a global action plan for developing countries to address the pandemic.

Asia

The East Asia Forum published a special feature series on COVID-19 and its impact in the region. HomeNet South Asia, a network of home-based workers (HBWs) in South Asia, has published a charter of demands* targeted at brands, suppliers, and the public sector, advocating a number of policy interventions that can be implemented, immediately and in the longer term. These interventions will alleviate the pandemic’s worst impacts on HBWs, who are some of the region’s most vulnerable and the majority of whom are women. This article* details what COVID-19 means for India's women informal workers, a key part of the country's economy. A background note outlines the socioeconomic impact of the virus on India, and proposes strategies to protect the working poor. Similarly, to address the societal impacts of the virus in India, Amartya Sen argues for participatory governance and public discussion models. This article details how India’s civil society networks have been providing emergency responses in vulnerable areas, highlighting the linkages between communal violence and lockdown hunger.

Middle East and North Africa

UN ESCWA has published short policy briefs and videos on the impact of COVID-19 on MENA’s economies and trade, food security, water scarcity, and gender equality. Concerns over the economic slowdown and its impact on jobs and foreign direct investment in the MENA region are covered in this World Bank blog, while this Cairo Review article analyzes the geo-economic impact of COVID-19 for the Middle East. AFP reports that a small tech firm in Egypt, Giza Systems Education Foundation, has designed and started distributing 3-D face shields for free to Egyptian medical practitioners. Countries in the region have taken a variety of measures on social distancing during the festive holy month of Ramadan. The impact of the pandemic on especially vulnerable populations in MENA states has made recent headlines: refugees in Lebanon are facing mobility restrictions and socioeconomic hardships, and the UN is concerned about a funding shortfall as COVID-19 is likely circulating undetected among 1 million displaced Yemenis, while women’s civil society groups are documenting increasing domestic violence. A blog post* discusses how social distancing measures have exacerbated unequal and gendered distribution of care work, but also presents an opportunity for transformation as this is perhaps the first time in the MENA region that these issues have moved to the realm of the public domain. Feminist organizations, activists, scholars, and especially feminist economists can use this opportunity to undertake feminist transformative research and lobby for alternative public policies that recognize women’s care burden.

Food security

The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that a hunger pandemic could be approaching, with 265 million people globally at risk of facing acute hunger. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Bank, and the WFP released a joint statement encouraging countries to consider agriculture and food-related activities as essential work, and avoid agricultural trade restrictions to maintain food supply chains. Similarly, a virtual conference* of the Group of Friends of Food Security and Nutrition was convened to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on food availability and supply, and explore ways to strengthen the resilience of food systems to absorb future shocks. The International Labour Organization (ILO) published a briefing note calling for a coordinated policy response in support of agribusiness and agricultural workers to maintain food supply chains. An article* by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) advocates for a global stimulus package by multilateral organizations to avert hunger and support the global food system. This Devex article examines how NGOs are adapting to respond to the pandemic-induced food insecurity in the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, including IDRC grantee Glasswing International which has adapted its work to incorporate food distribution to the most vulnerable in El Salvador. The Mazingira Institute, a former IDRC grantee, and TMG Research have created a platform for food system actors to report on their experiences during the pandemic, using video diaries*. Upcoming webinars in May 2020, organized by the Food Security and Nutrition Network, include a wide range of topics, from lessons for COVID-19 response in seed-assistance for producers, to small-scale agroecological approaches for COVID-19 in Uganda and Vietnam, and a food security and COVID-19 learning series.

Health systems and human resources

The consequences of COVID-19 show that a global approach to building resilience is needed, especially in health systems. An OECD blog post argues that health systems should be made a global public good and recommends three collective global efforts: setting up a global pandemic insurance fund; investing globally in pandemic-related infrastructure; and unlocking intellectual property rights using a global R&D fund. It notes that the WHO’s Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator, which aims to accelerate equitable global access to safe, quality, effective, and affordable COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines, is a step in the right direction. The WHO has also released operational guidelines on a set of targeted immediate actions that countries should consider at national, regional, and local levels to reorganize and maintain access to high-quality essential health services for all during the pandemic.

Data, surveillance, and AI

The UN has launched a COVID-19 stats hub that provides a space for the global statistical community to share guidance, actions, tools, and best practices, and address issues of open and timely access to critical data needed by governments and all sectors of society to respond to the crisis. Meanwhile, commentators across the globe continue to raise concerns about the use of data and technology in responses to COVID-19. A recent blog post* highlights that the tech- and data-driven responses by governments — with their narrow focus on counting cases and individuals — miss the needs of people historically invisible to the count. The absence of data does not mean the absence of problems and this is becoming apparent in the Lower Mekong countries, where existing inequalities layer one on top of the other. This LSE Business Review article notes that amid a shared sense of global emergency, data-driven surveillance operations — enabled largely by tech corporations and proliferating in the forms of public-private partnerships, tracking apps, GPS devices, drones, and facial recognition technologies — have outpaced regulation. Similarly, this article* questions the cost to rights of using big data analytics in tracking and predicting the pandemic’s spread, and examines measures undertaken in South Africa to address concerns about the risks that monitoring can pose for human rights. More broadly, the global data divide, which pre-dated the pandemic, looks set to deepen as the coronavirus drives trade digitalization which does not benefit developing and emerging economies. 

Development and research

A group of women scientists from developing countries share how their work has been impacted and how they have responded to the crisis. The Campbell Collaboration, which is working on a range of initiatives to help researchers, policymakers, and other decision-makers in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, highlights the need for evidence synthesis given the large volume of research being produced across all disciplines on COVID-19, and has created an interactive geographical map reflecting where emerging research is taking place.

Economic impact, fiscal response, and financing the global response

Like other cross-border financial services, postal remittances are now facing a downturn due to the pandemic. The Inter-American Development Bank has published evidence on the effect of fiscal stimulus on the economic activity in countries with different degrees of institutional quality, including reflections on the COVID-19 context. An emerging theme this week is the role of inclusive FinTech in the time of COVID-19, such as providing micro-insurance for hospitalization, and policy solutions to support financial inclusion. In this blog, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor argues that cash-in/cash-out agents are essential services for remittances and digital banking to reach remote and low-income users, and recommends tiered fee structures, among other policy changes, to support providers through the crisis. There is an acute need for a gendered approach to extending and supporting digital financial services, as women are disproportionately represented among the unbanked and women entrepreneurs face reduced income and mobility due to the pandemic.

Gender

Sexual and reproductive health and rights

This week, there is a focus on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) and rights issues in the context of COVID-19.  A commentary in The Lancet calls for maintaining SRH in humanitarian and fragile settings during the COVID-19 pandemic, as experience from past epidemics in these settings has shown that discontinuing healthcare services deemed unrelated to the epidemic response resulted in more deaths than the epidemic itself. Furthermore, issues related to SRH are among the leading causes of mortality and morbidity among women of childbearing age, with countries affected by fragility and crisis accounting for 61% of maternal deaths worldwide. A commentary in the journal Reproductive Health notes that as the pandemic is still evolving, there is an urgent need for the scientific community to generate solid clinical, epidemiological, and psychosocial behavioural links between COVID-19 and SRH and rights outcomes. In particular, it highlights a need for timely planning and actions for epidemiological research and surveillance of the key vulnerable groups of women and adolescents, and to assess the immediate, medium- and long-term effects of COVID-19 on their SRH. Meanwhile, new analysis by the UNFPA shows that the pandemic could have vast consequences for the rights and health of women and girls, with up to 47 million women in low- and middle-income countries unable to use modern contraceptives, leading to a projected 7 million additional unintended pregnancies; an additional 31 million cases of gender-based violence; up to 2 million more cases of female genital mutilation; and 13 million more child marriages over the next decade.

Gender-sensitive policy responses and data

IDRC partner the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has published a policy paper* on gender-sensitive social protection as a critical component of the COVID-19 response in low- and middle-income countries. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, it provides key lessons, considerations, and guidance across five areas. The Harvard database has published a dataset on COVID-19-related knowledge, attitudes, and practices among decision-makers of Indigenous municipalities in Guatemala to help inform national and municipal prevention and mitigation strategies for Indigenous communities and identify government resources that may be prioritized to meet their needs. Findings will also help decision-makers understand the effects that COVID-19 is having on girls, girls’ education, and sexual and reproductive health under these rapidly changing conditions.

Gender equality

A working paper examines the impacts of the economic downturn caused by COVID-19 on gender equality, which are substantial compared to those seen during “regular” recessions. While it notes that the effects of the crisis on working mothers are likely to be persistent, there are, however, opposing forces which may ultimately promote gender equality in the labour market, such as the shift toward flexible work arrangements and the possibility of a more equal division of housework and childcare in the home. Finally, the World Economic Forum discusses how to achieve gender equality after the pandemic, including preparing budgets from a gender perspective, based on gender-disaggregated data, to establish a more inclusive world order.

IDRC Digest: Online COVID-19 resources (as of 24 April 2020)

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

Africa

The OECD and Oxfam both warn of a food crisis already emerging in West Africa due to low commodity prices, inflation, currency devaluations, and the challenges importing agricultural inputs. Data collected by the Population Council from informal settlements in Nairobi supports this emerging trend, with participants indicating that their single biggest unmet need was food and the majority having skipped a meal or eaten less in the past two weeks because they did not have enough money to buy food. Additional data on public perceptions of and reactions to COVID-19 is now available for 12 sub-Saharan countries. Other effects of the pandemic include the disruption of mass vaccination campaigns, which could potentially trigger an upsurge in diseases such as polio and measles. The outbreak is also disrupting land governance,* a vital element of achieving sustainable, inclusive growth, and food security. IDRC partner the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) highlights the ramifications for Africa* now that Europe and the United States — both major sources of development finance and remittances for the continent — are at the epicentre of the virus. Nevertheless, opportunities arise from the crisis for change. Harmful but persistent rhetoric of Africa as a continent of disease needing to be saved is challenged in popular consciousness as Southern individuals and institutions participate and lead in efforts to produce equipment and find solutions to complex problems surrounding the pandemic.

Asia

The Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada has launched an interactive tracker of the latest news and policy responses in Asia. The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific highlights the importance of strengthening health and disease data and systems, especially in the Asia-Pacific region where five out of seven deaths are recorded without a cause of death. In Bangladesh, IDRC partner BRAC University* is leading a number of research projects to understand the impacts of COVID-19 on the lived experiences of vulnerable groups and health systems and service delivery.

Latin America and the Caribbean

The World Bank has published a comprehensive analysis of the economic impacts of COVID-19 in the Latin America and Caribbean region, including country briefs. CIPPEC* presents policy approaches that avoid an immediate humanitarian crisis in Latin America while enabling an effective healthcare response. The Inter-American Dialogue has published a number of analyses on Latin America, including its latest one on helping the most vulnerable in the region. This Open Democracy article highlights the rising numbers of displaced women and girls in Latin America and their unaddressed health needs during the pandemic and beyond. An Inter Press Service article highlights the increased risk of food insecurity for children in the region.

Middle East and North Africa

This website contains numerous resources on how the pandemic is unfolding in the Arab region and provides insights into local conversations on the social and economic dimensions of COVID-19’s impacts. A webinar hosted by the Middle East Institute discusses the impacts of the pandemic on refugees in the region, including how existing fragilities in healthcare services are exposed and further challenged in new ways. The New York Times reports on the impact of COVID-19 on bilateral relations between Iran and Iraq, with the former needing the border to re-open for trade in order to stabilize its economy. UN agencies have called for a global ceasefire to prevent a major health crisis from further ravishing conflict zones, with estimates of an additional 8.3 million people at risk of falling into poverty in the Arab region due to the pandemic. To help curb the spread of the virus, Iraq has released 20,000 detainees while families of Egyptian prisoners are urging authorities to do the same.

Food security

There is increasing attention on the impacts of the pandemic on food systems, fears of food shortages, the importance of understanding globalized food supply chains, and whether this is an opportunity rethink current food systems to make them more inclusive. The Centre for Strategic and International Studies analyzes how the pandemic will affect food security in low-income countries and states that U.S. and global leadership will be critical to avoid the worst-case scenario of a global food security crisis. A curated COVID-19 blog series highlights threats and opportunities for nutrition and food systems, as well as opportunities for building better food systems and nutrition. This article describes how the pandemic is yet another blow to Kenya’s food security, which already suffered from a locust invasion and unprecedented rainfall in 2019. A webinar* organized by IFPRI scheduled for April 30 will discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on food and nutrition systems across Africa, while a past interview with AGRA president Dr. Agnes Kalibata discusses the effects of COVID-19 on Africa’s food systems and the importance of creating a post-pandemic plan.

Health systems and human resources

The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a policy brief with 16 health system recommendations for the WHO European Region to respond to COVID-19. Last month, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine explored how scarce medical resources in the time of a viral pandemic can be allocated fairly, while an article in The Lancet examined whether high-performing health systems, in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan, were resilient against the COVID-19 pandemic, from which three key lessons emerged: first, integration of services in the health system and across other sectors amplifies the ability to absorb and adapt to shock; second, the spread of fake news and misinformation constitutes a major unresolved challenge; and third, the trust of patients, healthcare professionals, and society as a whole in government is of paramount importance for meeting health crises.

Data, surveillance, and AI

To address the pandemic, many governments are turning to digital technologies — from using geolocation data or biometrics to track and contain the spread of COVID-19, to developing mobile apps to monitor population flows and identify potential infections. These measures could play a helpful role in limiting the human and economic costs of the pandemic, yet they also raise serious concerns around privacy and data protection. In recognition of the need for further thought and debate on these issues, the OECD has produced a series of policy briefs: dealing with digital security risk during the COVID-19 crisisensuring data privacy, and protecting data and privacy while using apps and biometrics. Meanwhile, research continues on how AI can improve responses to the pandemic. The Lancet illustrates the importance of generating high quality data and evidence to train AI systems. For example, researchers are investigating using machine learning algorithms and mobile phone systems together to improve case identification. Smart-city approaches may benefit urban health monitoring and management beyond the current pandemic, while a London-based study is exploring public support for live facial recognition and its implications for COVID-19 policing.

International development, research and analyses

The OECD has launched a dedicated hub to access its data, analysis, and policy options. From a development perspective, a Center for Global Development fellow proposes a number of no-regret policies for the COVID-19 crisis that are worth doing now, regardless of which scenario actually plays out. The Syllabus publishes a weekly curated series of materials across text, video, and audio, focusing on the political, economic, and social effects of COVID-19.

Economic impact, fiscal response, and financing the global response

The UN’s Economic Commission for Africa reports that the economic costs of the pandemic have been harsher for Africa than the direct impacts of COVID-19. The drop in oil prices is affecting the national revenues of oil producing countries,‡ whose budget amendments will have profound consequences for the economy, unemployment, social spending, and ultimately poverty rates and crisis responses. IDRC Partner Proyecto Capital has recommendations for governments, financial institutions, and users to accelerate digitization of payments* to deliver subsidies efficiently through the crisis and beyond. The role of donors, and their relative priorities in response to the crisis, is an emerging theme this week as the Center for Global Development creates a tracker for COVID-19 international aid responses for education. Devex has created an interactive dashboard with data on actors funding the COVID-19 response and their priorities.

Gender

Gender-disaggregated data 

UN Women and the World Health Organization have joined forces to bridge the gender data gap and provide the latest available data on COVID-19 cases by sex and age. As more gender data is produced and disaggregated, they will be available here. Already, although COVID-19 mortality rates are lower among women than men, and sex and age disaggregated data are still emerging, the latest findings show that, in some countries, COVID-19 infections among female health workers are twice that of their male counterparts. Meanwhile, IDRC partner Silvana Fumega, Research and Policy Director of the Latin American Initiative for Open Data (ILDA),* writes about the pressing need for better data on gender-based violence, as well as improved and standardized data governance arrangements, to help governments and organizations in Latin America better understand the risks women face and design evidence-based policies. With COVID-19 social distancing measures now in place, there are already signs that the shutdown of services, the absence of social engagement, and the effects of unemployment and economic distress on fragile masculinities and entire families are leading to a spike in domestic and gender-based violence in Latin America.

Policy responses

On April 9, the UN Secretary-General published a comprehensive policy brief on the impacts of COVID-19 on women. The brief explores in detail how women and girls’ lives are changing in various spheres due to the pandemic, from health, to the economy, to security, to social protection. Noting that the social and economic impacts of COVID-19 have created an unparalleled global crisis that requires a whole-of-society response to match its scale and complexity, the brief outlines suggested priority measures to accompany both the immediate response and longer-term recovery efforts. It underlines the need for every COVID-19 response plan, recovery package, and budget to address the gender impacts of the pandemic and the existing inequalities that make us more vulnerable. Similarly, the OECD has published a brief to support governments and stakeholders in thinking about the important gendered implications of the pandemic and taking policy action. It asks governments to consider adopting emergency measures to help parents manage work and caring responsibilities, reinforcing and extending income support measures, expanding support for small businesses and the self-employed, and improving measures to help women victims of violence. Likewise, the World Bank has published a policy note that summarizes, based on existing evidence and emerging trends, key gender-differentiated transmission channels, and impacts on outcomes across three areas of endowments (health and education), economic conditions, and agency (defined as capacity to decide).

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

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

Sub-Saharan Africa

New challenges for the region include Ebola resurfacing in the Congo, as well as the emergence of counterfeit medications that claim to treat the novel coronavirus. The effects of the pandemic on migration and refugee populations in Africa are also coming into focus, with advocacy groups documenting problem areas in South Africa’s shantytowns, and IDRC partner Justempower is collecting grassroots perspectives at a time of pandemic* from the storytellers of the Nigerian and Benin Slum/Informal Settlement Federations. However, promising advancements include the sequencing of the novel coronavirus genome by researchers at the University of Ghana, and the production of rapid test kits (costing less than 1 Euro) at l’Institut Pasteur de Dakar, in partnership with British company Mologic. Similarly, respirators are being produced in innovative ways across the world and researchers at Senegal’s l’Université Polytechnique de Thiès are prototyping a ventilator that can be made completely through 3D printing. Inexpensive, portable ventilators are also being produced at Kenyatta University. A combination of public service announcements, interactive radio programming, and one-to-one SMS messaging is being piloted in Kenya to communicate public health information and gather rapid socio-epidemiological insights, shared weekly by Africa’s Voices. IDRC Partner Sci-Dev shares stories of youth mobilizing to find innovative solutions to the pandemic in the podcast COVID-19: L’Afrique innove.*

Asia

On April 14, ASEAN released a Declaration of the Special ASEAN Summit on Coronavirus Disease, which, among other priorities, commits member countries to cooperate on reducing vulnerabilities of at-risk populations and increasing resilience. A Human Rights Watch interview provides a high-level view on where human rights are respected or not in Asian country responses to the virus. An opinion piece* published by IDRC’s research partner Dr. Sameen Siddiqi, Professor and Chair of the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Aga Khan University in Karachi, provides an overview of the challenge of tackling the pandemic in an already weak and underfunded national health system in Pakistan. China has introduced a new policy that requires scientists to get additional approval to publish their COVID-related research. China is also adjusting its social credit system to the circumstances of the pandemic, using a combination of incentives and punishments to enhance its strategy of quarantining and managing the disease.

Latin America and the Caribbean

The Inter-American Development Bank has launched a web hub of resources on COVID-19, including real-time updates, targeted responses, and priority action areas including strengthening public health preparation and response capacity, safety nets for vulnerable populations, economic productivity and employment, and fiscal policies. A group of former Latin American presidents, officials, and scholars published a roadmap for the region, calling on the IMF, central banks, and multilateral banks to implement aggressive economic measures. The United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean is on the same page and notes that a massive fiscal stimulus means financing social protection systems that care for the most vulnerable sectors. In addition, a timely review looks at geographic and time-based distribution of known respiratory viruses in the Caribbean Basin in an attempt to foresee how the pandemic will develop in the region.

Middle East and North Africa

There is an analytical focus this week on how countries have shifted their economies in the MENA region in an attempt to cope. The Institute for Contemporary Affairs scans government responses to the pandemic in the region and advocates for a regional response. The Gulf, dependent on international air travel and foreign direct investment, has been hard hit. In pictures, Iranian musicians take to rooftops and windowsills, while workshops, delivered by podcast, train Middle Eastern youth authors on “how to write through the crisis”.

Food security

The International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems published a report on the symptoms, causes, and possible solutions to the global crisis experienced by food systems in light of COVID-19, while The World Bank gives a global synopsis on the novel virus’ impact on food security. The FAO published a short FAQ on the impact of the coronavirus on global food and agriculture, and the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition provides a breakdown of the various UN organizations’ responses to address nutrition and food security. The Natural Resources Institute addresses the effects the virus can have on agricultural livelihoods based on previous experiences such as the AIDS and Ebola crises in Africa. There is attention on the impact of the pandemic on China’s food chains as well – the FAO examines China’s response while The Conversation examines China’s ‘no-hunger’ policies.

Data, surveillance, and AI

This pandemic has triggered an unprecedented demand to use technology as part of the disaster response. An early-stage research paper presents a novel methodology that combines disease estimates from mechanistic models with digital traces, via interpretable machine-learning methodologies, to reliably forecast COVID-19 activity in Chinese provinces in real time. A SSRN discussion paper explores the potential of Google Trends to quickly track social responses to the pandemic.

Development and research

In March 2020, the World Health Organization worked together with over 300 scientists and researchers to publish a research and innovation roadmap for COVID-19. In response, the Global Health Network (GHN) has launched a COVID-19 research implementation hub that covers not only clinical research but also social science, ethics, and community engagement research. On the social science front, the GHN also intends to act as a hub to connect teams wanting to undertake high-quality research especially in low- and middle-income countries. GloPID-R and UKCDR developed a live database of funded research projects on COVID-19 to identify research gaps and opportunities presented as a heat map.

Southern Voice has identified a number of research gaps* critical to the Global South. The Mosbacher Institute for Trade, Economics, and Public Policy recommends prioritizing the following focus areas in developing countries: testing infrastructure in high-risk regions, improving multiagency coordination systems, addressing food chain vulnerabilities, providing relief for small and informal businesses, and boosting cross-country cooperation and communication. More research hubs are being launched. The International Science Council has launched a research response portal and the US National Institutes of Health's research program launched LitCovid, a daily tracker providing central access to relevant articles in PubMed. The Lancet provides a collection of their latest COVID content on a single webpage. ScienceBusiness.net runs a live blog that captures updates on how the crisis is impacting research and innovation.

Economic impact, fiscal response, and financing the global response

Economic costs of the pandemic for sub-Saharan Africa are now estimated to be over $100 billion, and the Director of the IMF’s Africa Department warns that “No country will be spared.” A recent McKinsey report estimates US$5 billion is needed over the next 100 days to finance an adequate health response in Africa alone. Governments are faced with the dilemma of protecting both human lives and livelihoods with their responses to COVID-19, and it is clear that the most vulnerable in the poorest countries are likely to bear the brunt of the impact of both the virus itself and the economic ramifications of locking down. The World Bank has published a primer for developing countries entitled Macroeconomic Policy in the Time of Covid-19, and already, development finance institutions (DFIs) are collaborating on responses to the pandemic. The 2X Challenge Working Group and the Gender Finance Collaborative are working to ensure gender dynamics are considered in the COVID-19 responses of DFIs, investors and other financial intermediaries. This recent paper calls for targeted fiscal reforms that prioritize higher value-added products such as green technologies to facilitate carbon transition for developing countries in the midst of the pandemic.

Gender

Asia-specific impacts

IDRC partner the National Commission on the Status of Women* in Pakistan, together with the Ministry of Human Rights and UN Women, has produced comprehensive evidence and analysis of the multi-dimensional gendered impact and implications of COVID-19 in the country, accompanied by context-specific policy recommendations to mitigate immediate risks for women and girls. The brief notes that, for a developing country like Pakistan with already low indicators of socioeconomic development, an epidemic is likely to further compound pre-existing gender inequalities. UN Women has also produced a gender lens analysis of the impacts of the pandemic in the Asia-Pacific in the first 100 days since the virus was reported. Among other impacts, it notes that women in the Asia-Pacific are overrepresented in the sectors and jobs hardest hit by COVID-19 – manufacturing, textile and garments, care services, hospitality, and tourism – and in the most vulnerable types of employment with the least protection, such as workers in the informal employment, including the self-employed, domestic workers, daily wage workers, and contributing family workers. Furthermore, the increased vulnerability of women in global supply chains, which have collapsed in both demand and supply, means that many women workers, including women migrant workers and those working in micro-, small, and medium- sized enterprises, have lost their livelihoods from one day to the next, without any safety nets, financial security, or social protection to rely on.

SRHR, GBV and unpaid care work

This week other organizations continue to focus on addressing the impact of COVID-19 on sexual and reproductive health and rights, with a notable commentary in The Lancet advocating for a community-driven sexual and reproductive health and justice framework – one that centres on human rights, acknowledges intersecting injustices, recognizes power structures, and unites across identities – as essential for monitoring and addressing the inequitable gender, health, and social effects of COVID-19. In Africa, sexual healthcare efforts falter as countries focus on addressing COVID-19 – with the implementation of social distancing measures such as transportation bans, sexual and reproductive health workers are finding their work increasingly difficult. Bringing a new dimension to the discussions on the gendered impacts of COVID-19 is the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has produced a policy brief with detailed recommendations on how to manage COVID-19 quarantine centres effectively without increasing the risks and consequences of sexual and gender-based violence. These recommendations are based on international standards, good practices, and lessons learned from ICRC operations, such as the Ebola response. Finally, a BMJ op-ed suggests a crisis can be an opportunity for gendered change, and one area of hope emerges from the pandemic – namely that online working arrangements have revealed how the informal care burden that happens within homes disproportionately falls to women. This raises opportunities for flexible working arrangements to increase, for recognition of the balance that many perform between paid and unpaid work, and for changes in who in the household performs this labour.