Pre-Existing Social, Economic Conditions and Large Informal Population, Increases Liberia’s Vulnerability to COVID-19 Economic Shock
In the recent two decades, Liberia has been recovering from a 14-year Civil War, then in 2014 Ebola struck, devastating the population and leading to many economic setbacks of gains from the Civil War. The fight against Ebola provided some opportunity to the Country’s fragile health care system in facing the current COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the Ebola experience of 2014, Liberia rapidly reactivated the capacities of health authorities to put monitoring systems in place as COVID-19 approached. While Liberia’s healthcare system stands in need of much help, the Ebola experience push health authorities and international aid agencies to develop infrastructure and skills for laboratory testing, exchange of capacities with international partners, technical agencies and the private sector. Together with the private sector, health authorities in the country were quick in creating awareness among the population. Liberia’s President took the lead with a public awareness song for Corona Virus, urging the public to join in the fight against the virus.
By Rev. Kenety S. Gee, MDiv, MSNM, MSGH
However, with the arrival of the pandemic in Liberia on March 16, officials were obliged to put safety measures in place like the rest of the world. In Liberia, like most of sub-Sahara Africa, this meant social exposure of the vulnerable population especially those in the informal sector. Liberia’s informal sector makes up about 85% of the workforce. This large segment of the population is the most vulnerable due to undesirable working, health and safety conditions. Further, the informal workforce has no safety net such as savings to get through any number of days without going to work every day. Due to the nature of the informal work environment, health protocols such as social distancing, mask-wearing, and even the need for constant hand washing pose a serious challenges. Besides, the need to work every day, social distancing and self-isolation in vulnerable communities is near impossible due to crowded living arrangements.
The lockdown measures put in place since March of this year, presented economic shock to the segment of the population living “hand to mouth.” Already, before COVID-19, unemployment rate in Liberia was high, consistent with the International Labor Organization (ILO, 2017 (33) which forecast in 2017 that unemployment rate in developing countries like Liberia will rise.
Just as people with pre-existing underlying health condition are more susceptible to COVID-19, developing countries like Liberia with pre-existing social and economic conditions, are more vulnerable to the economic downturn imposed by the virus. According to the World Bank, 2020 Global Economic Outlook, the COVID-19 crisis could push about 23 million Sub-Sahara Africans into extreme poverty in 2020. Further, the World Bank states that, “Should COVID-19 outbreak persist, should restrictions on movement be extended or reintroduced, or should restrictions to economic activity be prolonged, the recession could be deeper.”
To lessen the impact on the Liberian population, in the short, mid and long term, decision makers should focus on strengthening the health care system, put in place measure to reignite growth, increase transparency and trust in public institutions.