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When Healthcare Becomes a “Suicide Mission” – How Third World Countries Are Responding to the Pandemic


We’ve been hearing a lot about how the U.S. and other Western nations have been responding to this growing public health emergency, but pandemics can often highlight certain inequalities in the global health system. Less affluent countries do not have access to as many resources to stem the spread of the virus as the U.S. and Europe. Communities across Africa, South America, and the Middle East are struggling to keep up with rising demand for healthcare services.

Find out how nurses and care providers from around the world are responding to the virus amid this ongoing pandemic.

Mexico, Central America, and South America

Immigration has grinded to a halt along the Southern U.S.-Mexico border to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Mexico and the vast majority of Central and South America have yet to see the worst of this pandemic. Testing remains slow throughout much of the region as countries struggle to gain access to proper healthcare supplies.

Mexico has yet to report a case of community transmission. All confirmed cases in the country have been linked back to travel and direct contact with those that have recently returned to the country. As testing ramps up below the U.S. border, we could see more cases popping up across Mexico, Central America, and South America.

The President of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, remains skeptical of the virus. He has publicly referred to the pandemic as a “little flu”, insisting the media is trying to “trick” Brazilians into worrying about a nonexistent health problem. He may change his tune as the country reports more confirmed cases in the weeks and months to come.

Asia and the Middle East

China seems to have reached a turning point in containing the virus. After implementing dramatic shutdowns across the region, the country has all but eliminated the number of new coronavirus cases. Much of the country has returned to normal, however officials are now worried about the virus returning to the country as travelers return home.

The Philippines is currently imposing community quarantine, which is similar to a shelter-in-place order. Nonessential businesses have been shuttered as healthcare providers struggle to contain the virus. The local hospital systems have been overwhelmed with confirmed cases in recent weeks, and healthcare providers have started running out of personal protection equipment (PPE). Hospitals across the country have had trouble ordering more supplies from local retailers.

The city of Bacolod has been raising money to produce DIY face masks and shields. Healthcare workers and even the military are now using these masks on the frontlines to protect themselves from the virus. Homemade masks should only be used as a last resort, but these brave providers are running out of options.

Pakistan and Iran have also been hit hard by the virus. Both nations have struggled with testing in recent weeks, so officials believe the number of confirmed cases could be much higher than what’s being reported in the news. Hospitals have suffered from overcrowding as of late, which means the virus is almost certainly spread quickly among waiting rooms and ERs. Many providers lack access to PPE, as well. One doctor in Pakistan recently described the scene as a “suicide mission” for healthcare workers.

Pakistan has yet to officially shut down the local economy, unlike many other countries. Social distancing is virtually impossible, considering many people live in overcrowded homes and buildings. Pakistan also refuses to close mosques at this time, which means hundreds of people are still gathering together in tight spaces. Even if the government decides to close local mosques, religious leaders promise to fight back and stay open.


The coronavirus pandemic has quickly exploded across the continent of Africa. Just a few weeks ago, there were only a handful of confirmed cases across the continent, mostly among those that have recently traveled to other countries. However, there are now 33 countries dealing with the outbreak.

The healthcare system across Africa is not as robust as it is in other countries. Many facilities do not have access to ventilators, ICUs, and PPE. As more people come down with COVID-19, these areas may not have the tools to treat or contain these patients.

African health officials believe the mortality rate for those infected with the virus could be as high as 10%, which is much higher than the global average of 3.4%.

Even though the U.S. is suffering from a shortage of healthcare supplies, many third-world countries are having even more trouble responding to the virus. Without PPE and adequate access to healthcare, the virus is bound to spread quickly throughout inpatient settings. Without sweeping restrictions on travel and economic activity, these nations may be unable to contain the virus in the weeks and months ahead. Stay tuned as we track this pandemic as it moves from one nation to the next.

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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