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
- Economically vulnerable people have poor nutrition which lowers immunity.
- They live in crowded spaces making it easier for a disease to spread.
- 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.