Science Magazine

Covid-19: First World and Third World Problems

Posted on the 06 November 2020 by Jkinyoun @jkinyoun
Covid-19: First World and Third World Problems
Covid-19: First World and Third World Problems

Those of us with first world problems cope with Covid-19 disruptions that include the following:

- Managing children stranded at home while juggling other responsibilities- a husband also working at home (or home due to a layoff), an outside job with its added workload, and housework (which surmounts faster with everyone at home)

-Trying to maintain semblance of health and exercise despite gyms being closed and a lack of general opportunity to participate in organized sports and activities. For most of us this involves heavy use of bicycles and rollerbladers and other first-world outdoor sports gear. (Namely expensive)

-Challenges in maintaining social and relationship connections with heavy emphasis on zoom, drive-by events, social-distance play dates, driveway socializing and other modifications of normal relationship building

So that list really pales compared to this- imagine living somewhere in Africa where Covid-19 is a risk but where malaria is also a risk? In that case, the advice to keep a child at home with a fever can kill the child if the fever turns out to be malarial instead of Covid-19. 

An article in the most recent Economist describes the first-world challenges of Kenya, East Africa. Many people who live in the city believe sending their children to rural areas (with friends or relatives as caregivers) will protect them from Covid-19 and allow them to save money.  After all fewer mouths to feed is more saved money.

Increased risk of malaria in rural Kenya is the fallacy of parents’ thinking- this is where mosquitos breed in irrigation ditches. Fear of Covid-19 spread hinders distribution of mosquito nets and anti malaria cocktails. There is an attempt at multiple distribution points and alternate pickup times for the mosquito nets but with 15 million Kenyans it is impossible to distribute nets to everyone. 

Then there is the issue of mixed symptoms- is the symptom Covid-19 or is it malaria? If a fever is Covid-19 induced then the patient is advised to stay home. For a fever induced by malaria that would be disastrous, noted Melanie Renshaw, of African Leaders Malaria Alliance. For this reason, all patients with fevers must be tested for malaria. While a portable, quick-prick test does exist- it can only be used once. A resupply is necessary to keep it stocked. And with the disruption of the supply chain this is an obstacle. 

On top of that, the jihad intervene in ways that make it difficult for relief workers to reach the needy population. And many locals already don’t believe in Covid-19- many congregate in crowds, don’t wear masks and generally don’t follow precautions against Covid-19.

As I sit in my suburban living room and read this article, the only part of this story with which I can relate is the pain associated with the malaria disease. I contracted malaria back in 2000 on a two-month trip. We were traveling in rural areas with rampant mosquitos and I had been bitten several times. One morning I woke up with the most painful headache. As luck has it- we had traveled to a local medical dispensary for a tour the previous afternoon. The body aches I experienced during my 24-hour illness felt like a knife piercing through my muscles. Walking was difficult because even my bones ached. Fortunately, the medical dispensary was well stocked with a common anti malaria drug that miraculously cured me within 24 hours. Before administering the drug, the doctor in charge made me sign a potential death warrant- the drug itself apparently kills some people. But without it I would face certain death.

There is such a gap between my first-world experience and that described in this article. However, the next time I can’t buy toilet paper at the grocery store, or get frustrated with online, remote learning for my children -I plan to reread the this article and remember first-world problems. If I envision myself writhing in pain with malaria I will welcome an empty toilet paper aisle wholeheartedly. 

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