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Civil Society Calls for Governmental and Non-Governmental Actors to Apply the “Leave No One Behind” Principle when Responding to COVID-19

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that an outbreak of the viral disease COVID-19 – first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, China – had reached the level of a global pandemic.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

We, as the South African Civil Society Working Group (SAWG) on SDGs, note and are aware of the vulnerability of poor and disadvantaged communities. There is a large section of society   whose   immune system has been compromised due to HIV/AIDS and TB. There are also a lot of people who lack water and sanitation facilities, live in crowded human settlements and rely on public transport systems.  It is not hard to imagine how COVID-19 can wreak havoc in those communities.

The public health system is already working over capacity and unlikely to cope with new cases every day. As it was witnessed in other countries that are hit by COVID-19, health systems are not prepared to respond to a pandemic of this magnitude. The unequal allocation of healthcare resources in South Africa would further reduce the efficiency of response to the crises.

Experts warn that in societies where the virus hits, it is deepening the consequences of inequality, pushing many of the burdens onto the losers of today’s polarized economies and labour markets. They suggest that those in lower economic strata are likelier to catch the disease and will also likelier to die from it. And, even for those who remain healthy, they are likelier to suffer loss of income or health care as a result of quarantines and other measures, potentially on a sweeping scale.

SWAG notes the gravity of the health care challenges and possible loss of life brought by the COVID-19 and far reaching economic impact on the poor and disadvantaged communities.

We therefore call for governmental and non-governmental actors to apply the “Leave No one Behind” principle in the response to COVID-19. We call for exhaustive interventions that are inclusive and to prioritise the needs of the poor and disadvantaged communities. The planned intervention to fight COVID-19 should be to ensure that the poor and disadvantaged communities are prioritised.

The recommendations by SAWG are therefore as follows:

  1. Data driven and targeted interventions are required   in response to COVID-19. The Statistics South Africa should provide update information and data on vulnerability of communities and availability of services.
  2. Recognise this is a primarily health care crisis and the economic and social crisis is secondary. Therefore, sufficient resources need to be allocated to contain the pandemic.   The shortage of health facilities, testing capacity, essential supplies   and fully equipped hospital beds (ICU and ventilator) is being reported.  Accelerated action   is required to increase capacity within a short period of time.   We call for fair and equal allocation of all health facilities (public and private) to all people in South Africa.
  3. As part of infection control and prevention strategy, practice of hygiene will depend on access to safe water and sanitation facilities to reduce the transmission of the virus.  However, in some communities there is acute lack of access to water and sanitation facilities.  Government working with Statistics South Africa to target communities with severe lack of access.
  4. Social distancing in crowded human settlement is a challenge. Alternative accommodation should be sought for those individuals who need to self-isolate and quarantine.
  5. Access to essential services needs continue to be open including the South African Social Assistance Agency and social services.
  6. Law enforcement should forge relations in communities to combat opportunistic criminality that has victimised several innocent citizens under disguised as authorised community agents.
  7. Information dissemination, through social platforms, public updates through community radio stations, use of local languages to reach the far remote should increase
  8. The South African government has to consider a basic income grant to assist South African households to cope with the economic challenges brought by COVID-19.    While we commend various interventions to alleviate the impact of economic crunch, the government interventions should be exhaustive and prioritise the needs of the poorest of the poor.