The COVID-19 pandemic puts a spotlight on the imperative of protecting human capital in times of crisis. In addition to the loss of life and income, the pandemic poses risks to human capital through disruptions in access to essential services, a rise in food prices and breakdowns in supply chains. Households are seeing a rise in poverty, stress, malnutrition and infectious diseases, affecting development outcomes including child and maternal mortality. Altogether the crisis threatens to pose a huge set back to hard-won gains in human capital without rapid, decisive, and coordinated action.
For example, a reduction of essential health services of around 45% over 6 months could result in over one million child deaths and over 50,000 additional maternal deaths in low- and middle-income countries. In addition, a grim picture is emerging for learning loss, and ultimately future productivity loss, from the crisis. For women and girls, who bear the brunt of care work, the pandemic may exacerbate gender-based violence as well as the prevalence of child marriage and adolescent pregnancy.
These profound impacts of the crisis underscore the urgency of achieving universal health coverage, establishing robust educational systems, and ensuring the availability of strong and adaptable programs and policies, so that countries can quickly and effectively mitigate the effects of the shock and lay the groundwork for future resilience.
Altogether the crisis threatens to pose a huge set back to hard-won gains in human capital without rapid, decisive, and coordinated action.
Recommended policy responses to Protecting People and Economies
Countries and their governments are facing an unprecedented thread from COVID-19 and grapple with tough policy choices and tradeoffs—choices that are particularly constrained for countries with limited budgets. However, an effective policy response will be aided by following a set of principles and focusing on the pillars of pandemic containment, saving lives and livelihoods, and preparing for a recovery.
The report, Protecting People and Economies provides a three-part series of recommendations:
1. Containing the Pandemic: Disease containment as a first-order concern to combat the pandemic, combining measures such as testing and tracing, isolation and quarantine, and treatment of the infected
2. Saving Lives and Livelihoods: A parallel and simultaneous effort to save jobs, protect income, and ensure access to services for vulnerable populations; and
3. Rebooting and Preparing for a Recovery: A longer-term perspective to maintain macro-economic stability, continue to build trust, communicate clearly to avoid deeper downturns and social unrest, and use the opportunity presented by the crisis to rethink policy to build back with stronger systems for people and economies.
Working together with countries
To date, the World Bank Group is working with over 100 countries to support their COVID-19 response through helping mobilize and deploy resources -- including staff, critical supplies, and financing – toward public health interventions, nutrition and essential services, with special outreach to vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and health care workers. For example:
- We’re working closely with utilities in Ethiopia to maintain and increase the water supply to help overcome water, health and sanitation challenges during the response to the pandemic.
- In Cote d’Ivoire: we’re helping strengthen disease prevention and the public health system by providing personal protective equipment (PPE) to health care workers as well as adequate equipment to ICUs and health facilities, among other measures.
- We’re fast-tracking $1 billion to help prevent, detect, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in India and strengthen its public health preparedness, the largest ever health sector support from the Bank to India.
In countries including Tajikistan and Ecuador, we’re supporting the mobilization of communities, working with business, and helping community leaders and influencers promote public health, ensure continuity of essential services and supplies, and boost individual and community responsibility, including behavior change.