New York: Urban slums are uniquely vulnerable to coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, say researchers, adding that to help such people, governments should focus on providing basic needs, including freshwater, sanitation and providing payments for lost work.
According to the study, government-enforced social isolation may help relatively affluent populations limit the spread of COVID-19, but these measures can be devasting for the nearly one billion people around the globe currently dwelling in urban slums, where physical space is scarce, and many rely on daily wage labour for survival.
The report, published in the Journal of Urban Health, provides urgent recommendations for reducing the impact of COVID-19 on people living in poverty.
“The political and economic shocks and instability that are happening now and are likely to follow from this epidemic will likely kill more and lead to more disability in this population than the coronavirus itself,” said study lead author Jason Corburn from the University of California-Berkeley in the US.
“We felt we needed a strategy that recognized the unique needs of the urban poor at the front,” Corburn added.
According to the researchers, close living conditions and lack of basic sanitation make urban slum dwellers particularly vulnerable to contracting and spreading the coronavirus.
Many also have pre-existing medical conditions and lack access to health care, putting them at high risk of dying or developing serious complications if they do get sick with the virus.
Simply staying home is rarely an option for them, as it often means giving up work and even basic necessities like food, water and sanitation. In some countries, like Kenya and South Africa, people even face government violence for not obeying curfews and other restrictions.
“In many slums, people need to walk a long distance to collect water to use at home. Most people living in slums also have no choice but to participate in the informal economy, which will disappear under lockdowns,” said study co-author Lee Riley.
Topping the list of recommendations is a call for governments to partner with existing community leaders and NGOs to form emergency planning committees that can consider the unique social, economic and cultural needs of the community in charting the appropriate response, rather than relying on top-down directives.
Similarly, as many communities lack easy access to health care, community and informal health workers should be deployed to monitor individuals for early symptoms and educate them about how to avoid transmitting the disease.
Plans should be also be enacted for emergency transport into and out of settlements, which often lack adequate transportation infrastructure.
Finally, governments should ensure that people in slums have their basic needs for shelter and food met by enacting a moratorium on evictions and by providing payments for lost work, freshwater and food, and solid waste removal, the researchers noted.