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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Taking stock of the Covid pandemic care burden on women and young girls

Differential Impacts of COVID19

Since its outbreak in late 2019, the COVID-19 has imposed drastic social and economic impacts across the world.  Studies by the John Hopkins Institute show that by June 2020 there were, globally, 9.8 million COVID 19 positive cases, with 500 deaths in 215 countries and territories. The world’s economic, social, health and welfare systems are under great pressure. Innovations in different parts of the world to help communities cope with the multiple, adverse effects of the pandemic have proven inadequate to address the underlying and structural factor behind the global reality of weakened health and social protection measures. Different studies highlight adverse impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic on global value chains, and debt sustainability outlook across the globe.

COVID 19 has diverse and deep consequences in Africa, where economic, health and welfare institutions are poorly developed and therefore weak. Africa’s population structure, (with the majority 51%, being female and 60% being youths), implies differential social impacts of the pandemic. These statistics mean that approximately 85450 women, and 100529 young people are exposed to COVID 19 in SADC. This works out to 7.5 million women and also 9 million youths in Zimbabwe.  The implications are a need for appropriate interventions targeting these population groups.

The prevalence of COVID19 across SADC is shows South Africa is the worst affected with 90% of the total cases, and 89.7% of the total mortalities. After South Africa the DRC is next on the list of worst affected countries, with 4.2% of the cases, and 5.7% of the deaths. Zimbabwe the figures are 0.35% and 0.2% respectively.

COVID19 Response Mechanisms

For an average African country setup, it is possible to envisage two basic levels whereby society grapples with the COVID pandemic. First, is the Government level, for reasons pertaining to availability to, or access to information, and also the opportunity of institutional resources; financial, fiscal, technical or human in dealing with the pandemic. Government can be proactive, rather than reactive in its responses to COVID19 as they are more exposed to regional and global developments, and they have at their disposal policy instruments they can use to protect or advance the interest or welfare of the nation.

A key distinction in terms of institutional capacities to effectively respond to COVID can be drawn between the more economically developed countries and the poor African and Latin American countries.  The ability of developed states to provide financial and food handouts to population sectors most vulnerable to COVID 19 highlights the pertinent value of investments in strong economic, administrative and governance institutions that are transparent and effective in protecting citizens from future harm and calamities. (Bromfield L, et al  2010, IMF 2020). Weak governance and policy institutions in Africa are an extreme liability particularly for women and youths, as large sections of local populations. Confidence in economic governance institutions is also critical in garnering population support for Government programs such COVID 19 programs.

In a recent publication, International Monetary Fund revised its 2020 economic growth estimates for the SADC from 3.1% to -3% due to the COVID 19 pandemic. This downward revision by 6% implies reduced budgetary revenues, which further means that health budgetary allocations in the region are under further strain for the period under observation. Historically, the SADC region is characterised by weak safety nets and high exposure of vulnerable population groups to various adverse public debt, economic effects as well as natural hazards.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, and for reasons largely pertaining to fiscal constraints, Government of Zimbabwe failed to develop a proper infrastructure for testing COVID 19. This meant that the Government of Zimbabwe had to rely more on administrative (mostly police and army) mechanisms to reduce the risk of transmission across the country.  Across SADC the failure of countries to provide COVID related financial or food handouts to vulnerable population sectors highlights serious economic policy and governance challenges in the region.

At the second level are community/family COVID19 Response mechanisms. COVID responses at the community and family level tend to be more inward looking, reactive rather than proactive, and constrained by limited access to resources. For these reasons communities and families will tend to depend on the leadership and external supports of Government. High illiteracy, limited information, and resource constraints and poverty at the community and family level exposes large sections the population to the COVID 19 related risks.

Concluding Observations

The continued vulnerability of women and young girls in African countries, in the context of the COVID 19 pandemic highlights key learning points on the value of strong economic and policy institutions on the continent. The shared population characteristics of SADC countries points to the urgent need in the region to invest in strong development institutions to reduce population exposure to hazards and calamities, whilst representing and advancing the general interest and welfare of society.

Masimba Manyanya is a development economist and author with 16 years’ experience in Zimbabwe’s public sector, including the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Community and Cooperative Development, and Ministry of Finance.   He shares a passion for social and economic justice, and in this regard, he has since the late 1990s worked closely as a policy activist with the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC), and the Zimbabwe Coalition for Debt and Development (ZIMCODD)

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