Lessons from Asia and Africa in Containing a Pandemic

Solutions Journalism Network

While the United States, the UK, Italy and other wealthy Western countries have struggled to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus, many less affluent countries—as well as affluent Asian countries such as Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan--have had far greater success in containing and mitigating the spread of contagion. One emergent theme from this observation is that the countries exhibiting the greatest success facing the pandemic share the same basis for their resilience: They have experience with pandemics and have effectively used that experience in preparing for this one.  

Nations across Africa and Asia have battled SARS, MERS, the swine flu, and Ebola in the last two decades, and have clearly learned from those public health crises. While some "world powers" struggle, other places with first-hand experience are tapping that wisdom, along with some creativity and cooperation, to effectively ameliorate the effects of this pandemic.

The stories in this collection (see below) highlight how some of these countries are deploying lessons learned from earlier epidemics to resist COVID-19. Liberia is using its Prevent/Detect/Respond protocol developed during the Ebola epidemic by hiring unemployed residents as community health workers, who go door to door to provide tests, information, and resources. The Democratic Republic of Congo, ravaged during the Ebola crisis, has banned traditional funerals that involve large numbers of people closely interacting with (potentially) infected corpses and implemented alternative mourning rituals. Macau, the world’s gambling hub that normally accepts 100,000 visitors every day, implemented a rapid and dramatic response to the first reported case, and despite being the world’s most densely populated area, has only 30 confirmed cases. The southern Indian state of Kerala is experiencing similar success by implementing aggressive testing, contact tracing, and providing uncooked meals to the poor to prevent them from venturing out. Each of these measures builds on its past investments in citizen engagement surrounding healthcare. 

Click here for more teaching collections on COVID-19.