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Need to take a long-term view

  • Economically vulnerable groups are being forced to sacrifice disproportionately more for the better health of society.
  • To mitigate these deprivations, it is necessary for government safety net programmes to provide broad-based long-term support focused on specific vulnerable populations.
  • Social inequities are seen in the current COVID-19 pandemic — note, for instance, the disproportionately higher mortality rates among minority groups in the U.S.

These inequities are not surprising

  1. Economically vulnerable people have poor nutrition which lowers immunity.
  2. They live in crowded spaces making it easier for a disease to spread.
  3. They have inadequate access to safe water, sanitation, and quality health care.
  • The death of an earning family member is a huge financial loss anywhere, but particularly so for those living on the margins of the economy.
  • Studies on populations exposed to tropical diseases and poor nutrition in-utero or during early childhood have found that the effects of the disease continue into later years of life by affecting cognitive ability, educational achievement, and income as adults.
  • CMIE survey indicates that 44% of households currently report a loss in income, up from around 10% in early March.
  • Another survey found that 84% of respondents reported loss of income, and nearly 30% experienced shortages of food, fuel and medicines.
  • These outcomes were concentrated among the poorer households and in rural areas.
  • Poor nutrition during pregnancy or in early childhood has been associated with increased infant and child mortality.
  • The closing of schools due to the lockdown has deprived many children of their only nutritious meal through school-feeding programmes.
  • Moreover, children who experienced poor nutrition in-utero or during their early years find that their cognitive levels, educational achievement, and adult incomes are impacted.

Extending safety nets

  • The Central government and several State governments have announced a range of important measures to address the economic hardship faced by vulnerable households.
  • They promise to provide free or subsidised food to low-wage households, and direct cash transfers to vulnerable groups such as senior citizens, farmers, rural workers, construction workers and widows.
  • The effectiveness of these safety nets will depend on the adequacy of the relief package, how well they reach the neediest groups, and efficiencies in the delivery system.

Way Forward- Moving from Short-term to Long Term

  • More challenging is addressing the long-term health and economic effects of COVID-19. It will require extending current relief measures for a longer duration, to a few years.
  • To prevent human capital deprivation in the future, both long- and short-term relief measures will need to target specific populations like pregnant women and young children.
  • Recent government actions in this direction are helpful but they are focused on the short term.
  • As such, governments need to take a long-term view of mitigating the many economic and human capital effects of COVID-19 and its control measures.
December 2023