From Israel to the US and Lebanon, coronavirus supplies have been funneled to the wealthy and white

It’s simply not true to say this is an equal opportunities pandemic. Take a look at Gaza or the West Bank for your proof

By Nour Soubani and Eric Lewis 

The coronavirus pandemic has revealed, paradoxically, that we all share a common fate, yet our population is more divided than ever into haves and have-nots. A viral nemesis traverses the globe, oblivious of race, color, or political division. At the same time, the well-off, mainly of white European origin, shelter in place and largely avoid exposure.

Social distancing may have its downsides, but it is the ultimate luxury good. The “others” of the world are linked by a different fate — constant exposure to a potentially deadly microbe. While Covid-19 ignores superficial human differences, governments have created a social hierarchy that makes those differences a primary determinant in who gets sick and who dies.

Under international human rights law, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, every individual is guaranteed access to “the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” Public authorities must provide care across social divides and without discrimination or bias, including care for for institutionalized populations and those trapped in refugee camps. It requires the protection of health workers and other essential workers. We must today look in the global mirror and acknowledge that the ugly realities of racism, xenophobia, mass incarceration, and occupation are creating the conditions for a human rights catastrophe.

In the United States, we incarcerate approximately 2.3 million people — more per capita than any country on earth. While some non-violent offenders are being released, millions remain without the ability for social distancing and without access to adequate medical care. This is an overwhelmingly black and brown population, many of whom have co-morbidities that make them more vulnerable.

Meanwhile, on the streets and in the supermarkets, grocery workers put their lives on the line to stock shelves and deliver food, with an average wage of approximately $11 per hour, not enough to feed their own families. Data from urban centers show people of color dying from coronavirus in disproportionate numbers, a function of inability to isolate, poor health care infrastructure, poor nutrition and poor access to human capital for centuries.

In the West Bank and Gaza, Israel has a duty under the Geneva Conventions to ensure that Palestinians receive essential information and health services.. Until recently, information on the spread of Covid-19 has been published in Hebrew, with little to no Arabic materials. Longstanding restrictions on freedom of movement interrupt Palestinians’ ability to access healthcare facilities and services. This affects both patients who need treatment and cannot get to hospitals and clinics, as well as healthcare workers who can provide treatment but cannot get to work. In addition, detention of Palestinians in the West Bank without charge or trial adds to the overcrowding of facilities and increases the risk of exposure to Covid-19.

The situation in Gaza is more severe, given a near-complete absence of health infrastructure and delays in the import of medical equipment. Hospitals in Gaza have an estimated 40 per cent of basic medication needed, and reports estimate between 50 and 100 ventilators and 40 functioning beds for adults. There are 700 Personal Protective Equipment kits in the whole of Gaza, and Israel has sent a few hundred Covid-19 testing kits for approximately 1.8 million people.

Whatever one’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Israel cannot ignore a healthcare crisis over the millions of Palestinian human beings under its political control and in need of pandemic response.

It would be wrong to focus only on Palestine or the Israeli authorities in looking at the human rights crisis in the Middle East. In Yemen, a five-year proxy war has worsened what was already the worst humanitarian crisis in decades. Only 51 per cent of hospitals in Yemen are functional, with a limited supply of medicine, equipment, and personal protective gear for healthcare workers. There are only two testing centers to accommodate some 28 million people. Nearly four million people have been displaced since the start of the conflict, with many ending up in camps or informal settlements, where dire conditions make it difficult to prevent infection.

With over 12 million refugees and internally displaced people in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Turkey, the refugee and migrant crisis in the Middle East has presented unique health challenges for the countries that host these communities. Long-term refugees often have the most compromised immune systems, and so are especially vulnerable to severe infection. Refugees in camps have limited access to even the most basic sanitation needs and are crammed into small spaces, sharing bathrooms, bathing areas, food, and cooking areas.

Beyond the risk for infection, political responses to the pandemic often discriminate against the refugee and migrant sectors of society. In Lebanon, the government imposed a special curfew on Syrian refugees, despite the fact that 93 per cent of those sick are Lebanese, not Syrians. The curfew and other measures like it are especially untenable given that struggling refugees cannot afford to miss work. The age-old fear that outsiders will bring disease to larger segments of society prompts discriminatory travel bans and border restrictions that endanger those escaping violence and persecution.

Inside Syria, particularly in Idlib province, the situation is worse. The healthcare infrastructure of the region has been destroyed by the bombing campaigns of the past decade, leaving facilities with little to no equipment or resources to manage widespread infection (the entire region has about 100 ventilators.) In Egypt, the authoritarian Al-Sisi regime has detained peaceful protestors calling attention to the government’s inadequate response to mitigate the spread of the virus, and specifically to the condition of Egyptian prisons and the high rate of infection in primitive and abusive conditions.

Most countries are overwhelmed by their own healthcare challenges, but some members of the international community have stepped up. Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has allocated $150m to aid to Gaza and the World Health Organization has brought 1,500 testing kits to Gaza and 300 to Idlib. UNICEF has taken a leading role in managing pandemic response in refugee camps across the world. The Government of Portugal is taking progressive measures to ensure access to adequate healthcare to all residents, regardless of their status in the country. However, other countries have yet to take this step, leaving their refugee and migrant populations vulnerable to the infection and without viable options for treatment.

The international response has been far too little, too late and many more will die — not only because of a merciless microbe, but because of a global community that funnels resources upwards to the wealthy and white, and suffering downwards to the black, brown, displaced and poor.

(Source / 03.05.2020) 

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