• Tuesday, Jun 22, 2021
  • Last Update : 01:38 am

How did one of the world’s poorest countries defeat Covid?

  • Published at 06:10 pm May 5th, 2021
Africa Coronavirus
File Photo: A boy walks in front of a graffiti promoting the fight against the Covid-19 in the Mathare slums of Nairobi, Kenya on May 22, 2020 Reuters

The country has so far recorded 13,656 Covid-19 positive cases with only 260 deaths

As countries around the world are grappling with the coronavirus outbreak, Haiti, one of the world’s poorest countries, has managed to maintain a lower death rate.

The country has so far recorded 13,656 Covid-19 positive cases with only 260 deaths since the pandemic took hold early last year. Haiti, which often struggles with infectious disease, has a Covid-19 death rate of just 22 per million, one of the lowest in the world.

Countries with better economy and healthcare system, such as the US, has a Covid-19 death rate of 1,800 per million. In many European countries, the fatality rate is even higher.

Shortly after the first imported case of Covid-19 was confirmed in Haiti on March 19 last year, epidemiologists feared Haiti’s weak health system, crowded living conditions, and the population’s scepticism about the virus might lead to a catastrophe.

However, the lower number of Covid-19 deaths and cases remains a matter of surprise given how the government responded to the pandemic.

Most people have given up wearing masks in public. Buses and markets are crowded. And Haiti is one of the few countries which have not yet administered a single dose of Covid-19 vaccine.

What could be the contributing factors behind Haiti’s success?

Experts believe that the lower death rate is a result of underreporting. According to data from Worldometers, the country with 11 million people has conducted 5,216 tests per million which is one of the lowest.

Last June, Haiti was hit by a significant wave of infections. At that time, the country had only two Covid-19 testing centres, which made it impossible to trace the actual number of infections. The country has so far conducted 60,085 Covid-19 tests as of May 5. 

Dr Jean "Bill" Pape, the former co-chair of Haiti’s national commission to deal with Covid-19 pandemic, says a combination of factors have kept the death rate so low.

The commission was dissolved earlier this year.

The 74-year-old Haitian doctor told NPR: "We have very, very few cases of Covid. Sometimes it's two, sometimes zero, sometimes it's 20 cases.

"But we aren’t seeing a second wave, as we thought would happen."

Dr Jacqueline Gautier is a member of the national technical advisory group on Covid-19 vaccination. She is also the director of the St Damien Pediatric Hospital on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince.

According to Gautier, one of the most crucial factors which contributes to Haiti’s lower death rate was the country’s average age.

Haiti is a young country with an average age of 23, and Covid-19 infections tend to be less severe among the younger population. She also suggests that a significant number of people who might have infected by the virus last summer showed no symptoms and built-up immunity. 

Gautier said: "Also, there are many other major problems the country is facing. So, people don't see Covid as a major problem for us. And who can blame them?"

Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, plunged with poverty, political instability, wild fluctuations in the value of the local currency, corruption, armed gangs.

According to the UN, the average annual income of Haitians is less than $2000 per year which deprives them of the luxury of work from home.

"Most of the Haitians have gone back to work. Because if they don't work, they don't eat, their family doesn't eat," Pape said.

As the contributing factors behind Haiti’s success remain debated, the country has pretty much gone back to the way life was pre-pandemic. Schools are open. Thousands of people packed the northern coastal Port-de-Paix for Carnival in February.

Although Dr Gautier was fairly sure that Haiti had dodged the Covid-19 bullet, she worries that a deadly surge may be in Haiti's future, too.

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