UNDP Pakistan hosted a Twitter chat on June 10th titled ‘Inequality and Infectious Disease: Lessons for the COVID-19 Crisis’.
The Twitter chat served to connect people of Pakistan with domain experts, helping them understand the way inequality has both affected the COVID-19 crisis in the country, and how it has in turn been affected by it. With thousands of views and engagements, the hour and a half long Twitter Chat allowed interested audience members to interact with our panel and our National Human Development Report team, ask them questions, and put forward their own opinions about the crisis and its effects in an informative and participatory format.
The Pakistan National Human Development Report (NHDR) is one of UNDP’s flagship publications. This year’s report is on the theme of inequality, and deconstructs the topic from a number of perspectives, including child development, labour, gender, youth, and more. It analyzes inequality from a national, provincial, and even district level; going beyond income to focus also on inequalities in access to services, opportunity, and more. It also highlights the interplay of the COVID-19 crisis with inequality in Pakistan.
Poverty, inequality, and social determinants of health create conditions for the transmission of infectious diseases like COVID-19, and existing inequalities can further contribute to unequal burdens of morbidity and mortality. Our Twitter chat was an extension of this exploration, with a focus on Pakistan’s socially disadvantaged subpopulations that are no doubt being hit hardest by this pandemic.
The participants for this Twitter Chat had a wide range of expertise and experience in the fields of human rights, public health, development, economics, and more. It included government officials, Medical Anthropologists, academics, and development practitioners. Panelists included:
● Ms. Rabiya Javeri Agha, Federal Secretary for Human Rights
● Dr. Ayaz Qureshi, Former LUMS Faculty and Medical Anthropologist
● Dr. Ayesha Mian, Associate Professor, Past Chair, Dept. of Psychiatry. Founding Dean of Students, AKU
● Dr. Faisal Bari, Associate Professor, LUMS. Senior Research Fellow, IDEAS
● Ms. Aisha Mukhtar, Country Representative, a.i., UN Women
● Mr. Ignacio Artaza, Resident Representative, UNDP Pakistan
The questions presented in the Twitter Chat highlighted some key themes relating to infectious disease and inequality, such as the spread of disease, child life outcomes, the effects on women, policy interventions, and more. Here are some of the most meaningful insights and opinions from our participants.
1. How do existing inequalities increase chances for the transmission of infectious diseases?
Dr. Ayesha Mian: Need to look at this from the lens of social determinants of health. Many people don’t have access to #runningwater, or the luxury of #SocialDistancing because of the number of people in one household. #Inequality in resources therefore increases chances of transmission.
Dr. Faisal Bari: Many jobs do not allow for social distancing or other precautions to be taken. Access to information is different, and access to services as well. Reliance on public transport for movement is another factor.
2. It is said that COVID-19 does not differentiate between the rich and poor. How do existing inequalities impact the way these groups can cope with COVID-19?
Dr. Ayaz Qureshi: Coming up with SOPs and focusing all energies on implementing them by force is insensitive to those who cannot afford to not do what might expose them to risk. The government must support those in need and spend on providing safety nets for the poor.
Rabiya Javeri Agha: About 34 million people in Pakistan live in informal settlements with high population densities . In populated urban areas, self-isolation is tough.
3. What does it mean for a child’s life outcomes when they are more vulnerable to infectious diseases?
Aisha Mukhtar: During other crises, schooling helps children cope through interaction with peers and recover more quickly. COVID-19 is different and the majority cannot afford online education. This will widen the gap.
Ignacio Artaza: As development practitioners it is not enough to measure the impact of disease in scientific terms (recoveries/deaths) but also in human terms: how did disease change a child's future, affect their ability to grow, explore, succeed?
4. What are some issues that women are more likely to face because of the COVID pandemic?
Aisha Mukhtar: In times of crisis, violence against women and girls is likely to increase with heightened tensions related to health, finances, compounded by cramped and confined living conditions.
Rabiya Javeri Agha: Women suffer the economic impact of the crisis disproportionately as most of them are informal low wage workers, home-based workers, or agricultural workers facing multidimensional issues of low-income security and the absence of social protection.
5. What targeted interventions are needed to lower infectious disease in vulnerable communities?
Dr. Ayaz Qureshi: Epidemic preparedness is another area that needs attention. Perhaps a targeted intervention for the future. How many institutions for the study of infectious disease in Pakistan? Anyone? And this is a country of more than 200 million people.
Dr. Ayesha Mian: Simple, consistent, clear, unambiguous messaging through local mosques, schools, madrassas, leaders etc. Providing minimum wage to those under the poverty line. Hotlines for the vulnerable.
6. What role can the ordinary citizens play in easing the challenges of vulnerable groups as they relate to the COVID-19 pandemic?
Ignacio Artaza: Be especially kind to people who do not have your privileges in these trying times. If you can, help needy and elderly neighbours by buying their groceries, and continue paying wages of your staff even if their duties are reduced.
Dr. Faisal Bari: Give to others as much as you can....now is the time. Help others in any way you can. Disseminate information. Ensure you follow SOPs and ask others around you to do the same.
This event was a continuation of a series of Twitter Chats hosted by UNDP Pakistan for the Pakistan National Human Development Report, with an emphasis on fostering community discussion on the theme of inequality. This strongly aligns with UNDP’s focus on generating and disseminating information in an inclusive and accessible manner, on the road to a more #EqualPakistan.
Read more about UNDP’s work on COVID-19, inequality, and the National Human Development Report:
● COVID-19 pandemic response
● Art of War against COVID19
● Literal call for well-being
● Social cohesion and community resilience in the face of COVID-19
● Towards an #EqualPakistan
● Inequality and its Discontents: Crafting Pakistan’s National Human Development Report