By Sayibu Ibrahim Suhuyini, Communications Assistant, UNDP Ghana

For several months now, the coronavirus pandemic has brought the whole world to its knees. According to the World Health organization (WHO), as at 26 June 2020, the virus has so far infected over 9 million people, killing over 400,000 people.

The virus is not only affecting human life, but it has had an overwhelming devastating effect on the global economy. Indeed, it has brought businesses and economies to a stand-still in an unprecedented manner, with millions becoming unemployed globally within a matter of months. The International Labour Organization (ILO) predicted that the impact of COVID-19 could cause equivalent of 195 million job losses.

Governments are racing against time to curb the spread of the pandemic, treat those already infected and revive the ailing economies. Measures such as lockdown, mass testing and early treatment have become the common strategies being deployed to help achieve these goals.

However, the effectiveness of these measures and other mitigation responses of many countries have been largely hampered by the systemic social inequalities that have existed for a long time. The pandemic has shined more light on the dangers inequalities can have on the collective survival of societies. COVID-19 has confirmed in practical terms the concerns raised in the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) 2019 Human Development Report (HDR), titled “Beyond income, beyond averages, beyond today: inequalities in human development in the 21st century”, which highlighted the threats posed by various forms of inequalities in the 21st century.

Lockdown is being seen as an effective strategy to stop the spread of the virus, but it also has negative impact on the economy particularly on the poorers in our societies. For some countries, especially in the developing world, it is feared that, majority of the population may die of starvation in prolong lockdowns, prompting many countries to be circumspect in its imposition. Is this not a clear admission that society has left so many people behind for too long?

As the pandemic ravages throughout the world, access to quality health care is perhaps the single most important thing in this fight. Unfortunately, for a significant number of the population in most countries, this necessity remains a luxury they cannot afford. This thus has the potential of becoming an obstacle to the principle of early testing, treatment and isolation as advocated by WHO.

In addition, whilst schools remained closed, many have proposed online learning to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on education. However, according to the UN Briefing Note on the impact of COVID-19 on education in Ghana, digital divide, which is a form of inequality, has affected the effectiveness of this measure. Whilst recognizing the critical role of technology in human development, the 2019 UNDP Human Development Report also identified the gap in the use of technology as a challenge, especially when it comes to access. Today, as governments especially in developing countries strive  to roll out online learning in a massive scale, the COVID-19 pandemic has not only exposed our sad reality of inequality, but  also shown us in very unambiguous terms that the consequences of leaving others behind in access to basic services is obvious.

It is important to recognize the significant steps governments are already taking to reduce these inequalities. However, if COVID-19 has taught us any lesson, it is that we must double our efforts in bridging the inequality gap. The lessons here are clear; when we leave others behind, they may one day be the only thing holding back the rest of society from jumping out of destruction. As noted by the 2019 UNDP Human Development Report, strong political, and financial commitments from all critical stakeholders will help us address the remaining challenges for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

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