Addressing COVID-19 Impacts: The Economic Response to Save Lives and Livelihoods

This article was produced based on a webinar co-hosted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health and the World Bank Group held on September 17, 2020 titled, “Addressing COVID-19 Impacts: The Economic Response to Save Lives and Livelihoods.

COVID-19 has proven that health and economic responses to the pandemic are intertwined and protecting people and livelihoods requires an integrated policy. Dr. Sameera Mazaid Al-Tuwaijri, Global Lead, Population and Development, HHNDR, World Bank Group said, “Policy responses to the crisis must be carefully calibrated, with a view to priorities in the face of trade-offs. Saving lives and livelihoods today must be balanced with preparing for an effective, resilient and equitable recovery tomorrow.”

As countries work to address this pandemic, they must keep human capital at the heart of their policy response by supporting households, individuals, and families deal with the effects of the pandemic and support their access to education and jobs. Such efforts should accompany supporting firms and economic recovery through policies that enhance economic stability and help markets grow. Similar recommendations have also been evidenced by Baldwin and di Mauro.

Source: Baldwin and di Mauro (eds.), 2020

Effective response to pandemics such as COVID-19 should be strategic and context specific. Dr. Sameera recommended six key principles for decision making in a pandemic response:

  1. Trade-offs will be difficult and should be informed by country context.
  2. Good data enables evidence-based, adaptive policy decision making.
  3. A “whole of society” approach is needed for immediate response and medium-term recovery.
  4. Governance and transparency are even more crucial now.
  5. Leadership is essential, and governments can use factual, clear communication to align behavior and build trust.
  6. Prioritize the vulnerable.

Ajay Tandon, Lead Economist, HSAHN World Bank Group and Patrick Hoang-Vu Eozenou Sr. Economist, Health, HAWH2, World Bank Group elaborated on how the economic contagion from COVID-19 has grown exponentially and has many implications for health financing while providing recommendation son alternative next steps for policy makers, donors, local decision makers, researchers and advocates.

The World Bank estimates that 71-100 million people may be pushed into extreme poverty because of coVID-19. A large share of the new poor will be concentrated in countries that are already struggling with high poverty rates, but middle-income countries will also be significantly affected. Nearly half of the new poor population will be in Sub-Saharan Africa. These economic challenges have several health financing implications including the threat of stagnating funding for health programs which may risk the reversal of many years of progress made towards universal health coverage. Health will need to continue to be a priority in order to sustain continued investments to maintain or increase allocations during annual budget submissions.

Addressing COVID-19 in Sindh, Pakistan

Dr. Azra Fazal Pechuho

COVID-19 has proven to disproportionality affect older people and women. Dr. Dr. Azra Fazal Pechuho the Minister for Health and Population Welfare, Government of Sindh, Pakistan highlighted that gender perspective and infection across groups shows that COVID-19 affects some demographics disproportionately. For this reason, the Government of Sindh took a proactive approach to combatting the spread of the virus at the initial stage, including school closures and being the first provincial government to announce a lockdown despite having no deaths related to COVID-19. Additionally, the government was the first province to issue family planning and reproductive health guidelines at the early stages of the pandemic and amended these guidelines over time to adapt to changing climates. Other support initiatives such as free food distribution, reduced school fees, and free testing and treatment facilities in the public sector.

At country levels, COVID-19 has affected Government policies and has disrupted planning across board. Dr. Anthony Nsiah-Asare, Presidential Advisor on Health, Office of the President in Ghana notes, “The COVID-19 pandemic is far more than a health crisis. Ghana has not been spared the economic and social impact that the pandemic has visited on people in all nations.”  

Restrictions on movements disrupted households and businesses with consequent job losses and reduced incomes. The Government of Ghana has implemented a three-year stimulus plan aiming to improve citizen access to essential public services, aid businesses during the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, and more generally aid small and medium-scale enterprises. Part of the economic response includes easing restrictions put in place in the early stages of COVID-19 (see figure below). These measures will help the economy return to normal or near-normal over time.

To learn more about global socio-economic impact of COVID-19 and government responses to mitigate the economic and social impact of the pandemic, check out the full webinar recording here.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020 - 10:00