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What the Global Pandemic Response Is Missing

While developing countries' debt levels have received ample attention in recent months, little has been said about a more immediate problem: their inability to acquire the medical supplies needed to fight COVID-19. To minimize the negative impact, a non-market allocation mechanism must be quickly established.

WASHINGTON, DC – After ravaging the developed world, COVID-19 is now devastating developing and emerging-market countries, most of which lack the medical and financial capacity to combat the pandemic and its economic effects.

For advanced economies, the first line of defense has been social distancing, hand washing, face masks, and widespread lockdowns. But for poorer countries, replicating this response is virtually impossible. Housing tends to be overcrowded, and face masks and soap are scarce. Moreover, water sources and sanitation facilities are often shared and situated in narrow alleys, and many poor people must leave their homes daily to access them or to purchase food. Hence, for poor people who live hand to mouth, an enforced lockdown amounts to a sentence of penury and possibly starvation.

Conditions in many parts of India illustrate the catastrophe that has been unfolding across developing and emerging markets. When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a sudden lockdown in late March, millions of migrants lost work and were forced to return to their villages hundreds of miles away. With no means of transportation, they simply started walking, spreading the virus as they went.

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