Matt Venezia is a sophomore studying biology with a minor in writing.
On Jan. 21, the United States confirmed its first case of coronavirus (COVID-19) and ten days later, a public health emergency was declared by the World Health Organization. By March 20, just two months after the U.S. recorded its first case, hundreds of thousands were infected with COVID-19 in over 150 countries.
Since then, most articles and broadcasts from the top news networks in the U.S. such as CNN, Fox and MSNBC have covered stories about how COVID-19 affects the developed world with a focus on the U. S., the United Kingdom and the European Union. The most popular stories tend to revolve around the U.S. with its 3.1 million total cases, or the EU, which has all but defeated the pandemic with less than 4,000 cases per day as of July 10.
On television and Google News, where the majority of Americans often consume news, there is a worrying lack of emphasis on COVID-19’s impact outside of the developed world.
The impact COVID-19 is having, and can potentially have on the developing nations like Nigeria, India or any other low-income nations in the global south is substantial, even if it’s not immediately obvious from most available information.
Though India has over 820,000 cases as of July 10, the nation has a low death rate. This is an indicator that the country is preventing deaths from the virus more effectively than other nations.
But, these statistics are misleading. According to Nature, India has an incomplete death registration system which means that not all deaths from COVID-19 are reported and the low death rate is not likely to be correct. Additionally, testing in the nation is low by all standards. Both of these issues are caused by a lack of proper technology to test for the presence of the virus, and both cause misleading statistics that are not often explained by the media.
In the Middle East and Africa, both Yemen and Tanzania do not have testing policies as of July 10. Tanzania has even halted testing entirely and declared the pandemic “finished.” Nigeria, which harbors one of the hubs of African biotechnology necessary to test for SARS-CoV2, only has a testing capacity of 2,500 samples per day and is testing fewer than 2,000 samples per day with a population that almost exceeds 200 million.
Many African and Middle Eastern nations including Yemen, Syria, Mozambique, Burkina Faso, Niger, Burundi and Zimbabwe have reported 1,200 cases or fewer with low testing rates, even though they all account for populations greater than 11 million. Most countries in Africa were not prepared to detect an outbreak and fewer still were prepared to respond to it. Low testing capacities coupled with a lack of ventilators and ICU beds could be destructive and deadly. As far as the death registration systems in Africa, not much has been written about them. It is plausible to ask if a similar situation to India is occurring in most African nations as death rates are low throughout the continent.
On top of the lack of pandemic detection and response, much of the developing world faces socio-political unrest, lack of clean water, hunger, shorter life expectancies, unreliable healthcare, displaced people crises and a horde of other problems further exacerbated by COVID-19.
These compounded problems of the developing world have been mostly ignored by American media to begin with and now, COVID-19’s impact on those problems is still disregarded by the general public. The reasoning behind low numbers of deaths and cases in the developing world is not mentioned on Google’s world map of COVID-19 cases. Nor is it mentioned in the news outlets specializing in international news coverage. So far, only The Economist and BBC News have substantially reported on the lack of testing in Africa and CNN has mentioned it in one article.
The developing world is largely ignored by most Americans. Misleading statistics and omission from the news reaffirm the belief that it is not important to remember the billions of people who are not fortunate enough to live in a nation with a modernized infrastructure during a global pandemic. This ignorance is unacceptable.
It’s time that American media, and Americans themselves, begin to recognize the impact that a global pandemic has outside of Europe and the U.S. It’s time for statistics from developing nations to be reported in a manner that strongly conveys their likely inaccuracy. Now is the time to recognize the plight of those who are less fortunate as they struggle with not only the pandemic, improper testing, healthcare or death care,but a multitude of other compounded problems most of us are unable to even imagine.