COVID-19: Bringing Inequality to the Forefront


When the world came to a stop, some people fared better than others. The pandemic has highlighted all the problems and inequalities that have been plaguing the world. We only have to look at how the pandemic has affected the rich and poor of the world differently to see that. The virus can infect anyone; yet, gender, social status, and place of abode all factor in how badly one is affected. According to a feature by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on the impact of COVID “Developing countries, and those in crisis, will suffer the most, along with the already vulnerable all over the world; those that rely on informal economy, women, those living with disabilities, refugees and the displaced, as well as those that suffer from stigma”.

There was a marked difference in people’s abilities to shelter from the virus due to the nature of their work. Those who have access to a stable Internet connection, a computer, and a job that can be conducted from a desk were lucky and able to work remotely. Those whose jobs depend on physical labor or contact with the public either had to expose themselves to the risk of catching the virus—sometimes for minimum wage—or they lost their jobs. An article by Ian Goldin, Professor of Globalization and Development, and Robert Muggah, Director of Igarapé Institute, stated that a “recent survey of 37 countries indicates that 3 in 4 households suffered declining income since the start of the pandemic, with 82% of poorer households affected.”

Your access to technology greatly shaped your experience of the pandemic; with education moving online, not everyone had the luxury to follow through. According to Henrietta H. Fore, Head of the UN Children’s Fund, due to the pandemic “140 million families are likely to fall below the poverty line; 168 million children have been out of school for more than nine months; and one-of-three students do not have access to remote learning”. Girls’ education, in particular, was a problem before the pandemic hit; 132 million girls were denied schooling for various reasons. It is estimated that 20 million more school-aged girls will not return to school post-pandemic. This is devastating because education can lift people out of poverty, allowing them to have a better quality of life.

Access to education is but one aspect where being female puts one at a disadvantage; with the pandemic, many problems faced by women have exacerbated. According to Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS (The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS), “COVID-19 has dramatically widened the gaps between men and women in terms of wealth, income, access to services, the burden of unpaid care, status, and power”. Byanyima points out that, while COVID-19’s impact has so far been unequal within societies and across nations, gender inequality will actually hinder any effective recovery from the pandemic, for how can the world properly recover if half its population is at a disadvantage? While talking and bringing these inequalities to light is important, it is even more important to fund projects that bring about actual tangible change and help reverse the disadvantaged position women are at.

If we look at the race for vaccination and the numbers of people vaccinated per population around the world, a stark picture of the state of global inequality emerges. While some richer countries have already vaccinated a large swath of their people, some poorer countries have yet to start their vaccination drive due to lack of access. This has been dubbed as vaccine apartheid.

COVAX (COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Initiative) was created to counteract this disparity in hopes of creating an equal opportunity access to the vaccine. However, as the numbers indicate, this effort is not enough. Many developing nations do not have the facilities where they can make and store their own vaccines. Even if they do have the manufacturing capabilities, it is not easy to obtain access to the patents and know-how of making the required vaccines. The divide has become quite obvious; while some are celebrating their vaccination milestones and easing restrictions, the virus still runs rampant in many hotspots around the world. This means more aggressive strands of the virus could emerge and be resistant to the vaccines that have been developed and administered. We could end up back in square one!

In her article, Byanyima states: “Achieving a more equal world is not only a moral imperative, it will make the world more resilient to pandemics like COVID-19 and makes us all healthier, safer, and more prosperous. We cannot afford not to do it.” It is in everyone’s best interest to close the gaps of inequality between and within nations. If anything, our connectedness has been highlighted during these trying times and only together can we all make it out.


This article was first published in print in SCIplanet, Summer/Autumn 2021 issue.

Cover image by Freepik

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SCIplanet is a bilingual edutainment science magazine published by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Planetarium Science Center and developed by the Cultural Outreach Publications Unit ...
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