07:50 GMT29 March 2020
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    As the COVID-19 virus begins to increasingly impact areas of the developing world and war zones such as Syria, a new public health challenge has emerged: public health itself. According to one activist, it has to be the larger, more industrial countries who help them pick up the slack.

    Major governments should provide additional support to areas like Gaza, Syria, Afghanistan and West Africa that have large numbers of refugees and people affected by conflict amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Kathy Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Non-Violence, told Radio Sputnik's Loud & Clear Wednesday.

    “How can you tell people who are living together in a small hut with eight people sleeping in one room that they have to practice physical distancing? How can you tell people to wash their hands thoroughly all day long if people don’t have access to running water? What can we say to people who live on whatever wages they earn per day, if there’s a stay-at-home order?”

    “I think there are perils, just terrible, terrible perils for people who are fleeing from homes, living in refugee camps, for people who, all their lives, live in places in India that are remote or in Delhi in India that are incredibly densely populated,” Kelly told hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker.

    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday announced a complete lockdown for the next 21 days to contain the spread of the coronavirus in the country, as its number of cases has quickly increased to more than 600.

    “Take India: on March 23 there were seven deaths from the coronavirus, and that’s in a country where 8 million people die every year. So, all of a sudden, yesterday they learn with four hours’ notice that the whole country is on lockdown. For people who are migrant workers and street vendors and day laborers … [it is an] economic tsunami. I think we [major economies] have to be very detailed and very precise as they try to think through the consequences of both a health and economic crisis. And to me, the most sensible thing to do, really, is to look out for the needs of the most vulnerable,” Kelly explained.

    “I think, first of all, major governments must not squander money on corporate bailouts. That should be out of the tool kit completely. And there are existing programs in places all across India. They actually had some - in previous governments - some pretty remarkable programs. They had midday meals for children across the country in nursery schools and elementary schools, so use those midday meals spaces to continue to distribute food. And women are paid a major wage to prepare that food. So, some of those programs, the right to work and the right to a minimum wage programs that already exist, should be enhanced, if anything,” Kelly noted.

    Countries like Afghanistan have begun to see more cases of COVID-19 in recent days. However, even without the global pandemic, Afghan refugee camps already lack necessary health infrastructure - a major coronavirus outbreak could devastate countries with high refugee populations. 

    “The norm in the Afghan refugee camps that I have visited is that people who are sick look even just across the road, and they see big, modern hospitals, and they can’t go near them,” Kelly told Sputnik. “The norm is that people die at early ages. The norm is to see young people curled up in a ball and shuddering and not able to get any medicines or pain relief even after they have been maimed by a US drone attack. I’ve been with children who can’t get prostheses.”

    “There’s just no question of a [good] health care delivery system being available in Afghanistan. That’s deteriorated almost completely under all of these years of war,” Kelly explained.

    In an appeal on Monday, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General António Guterres urged for a global ceasefire so that governments worldwide can unite against the coronavirus pandemic.

    “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war. That is why today, I am calling for an immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world.  It is time to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives,” Guterres said.

    Such a global ceasefire would “certainly constitute the lifting of economic sanctions which constitute war against other countries,” Kelly pointed out.

    “If the nations of the world were not dominated by this UN Security Council [composed of six permanent members: China, France, Russia, the UK and the US], then I think that António Guterres’ call could be heeded in many parts of the world, because there wouldn’t be the wheeling and dealing that the Security Council always imposes, looking after the interests of their own elites,” Kelly noted.

    The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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