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COVID-19 pandemic's economic shock hit less-developed countries hardest

Olympic wrestler Jackeline Renteria is pictured getting tested for COVID-19 in July in Cali, Colombia, one of several nations that has been hit hard economically by the coronavirus pandemic. File Photo by Ernesto Guzman Jr./EPA-EFE
Olympic wrestler Jackeline Renteria is pictured getting tested for COVID-19 in July in Cali, Colombia, one of several nations that has been hit hard economically by the coronavirus pandemic. File Photo by Ernesto Guzman Jr./EPA-EFE

Feb. 5 (UPI) -- Few nations have escaped the economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, but new research suggests low- and middle-income countries have been hit the hardest, suffering sharper declines in standard of living and food security.

To account for the scope of economic shockwaves triggered by the pandemic, researchers conducted several thousand phone surveys in Burkina Faso, Colombia, Ghana, Kenya, Nepal, Philippines, Rwanda and Sierra Leone, amassing large amounts of data on job and income losses.

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The data -- detailed Friday in the journal Science Advances -- suggests the socioeconomic drop-off in less-developed countries has been especially harsh, resulting in higher levels of food insecurity.

Many of the surveyed households said they were struggling to meet basic nutritional needs.

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"COVID-19 and its economic shock present a stark threat to residents of low- and middle-income countries -- where most of the world's population resides -- which lack the social safety nets that exist in rich countries," study co-author Susan Athey said in a news release.

"The evidence we've collected show dire economic consequences, including rising food insecurity and falling income, which, if left unchecked, could thrust millions of vulnerable households into poverty," said Athey, economist at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business.

Reported income losses in the nine countries ranged between 8 percent in Kenya and 86 percent in Colombia.

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The mean reported income loss was 70 percent. Reported job losses ranged from 6 percent in Sierra Leone to 51 percent in Colombia. The median job loss rate across the nine countries was 29 percent.

The survey data showed landless agricultural households in Bangladesh and rural households in Sierra Leone were most likely to report skipping meals or reducing portions as a result of economic hardships brought on by the pandemic.

In addition to suffering income losses, many respondents said they had lost access to markets as a result of lockdowns and restrictions on transportation and movement.

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Survey responses suggest households in lower- and middle-income countries have also lost access to health services, including child vaccinations, as well as child care and education.

"The pandemic's economic shock in these countries, where so many people depend on casual labor to feed their families, causes deprivations and adverse consequences in the long term, including excess mortality," said study co-author Ashish Shenoy, researcher at the University of California, Davis.

"Our findings underscore the importance of gathering survey data to understand the effects of the crisis and inform effective policy responses. We demonstrate the efficacy of large-scale phone surveys to provide this crucial data," said Shenoy, a researcher at the University of California, Davis.

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