Pandemic Pandemonium: How a ‘Developed’ Country Delivered an Undeveloped Response

Design by Angela Chen

According to a 2019 World Economic Forum article, the United States was predicted to be the best prepared country in the world to deal with a pandemic in terms of “[having] proper tools in place to deal with large scale outbreaks of disease.”

According to a 2019 World Economic Forum article, the United States was predicted to be the best prepared country in the world to deal with a pandemic in terms of “[having] proper tools in place to deal with large scale outbreaks of disease.” During the current COVID-19 pandemic, however, we have seen that the U.S. has not only failed to meet this prediction but has fallen quite short of it. A supposedly ‘developed’ country with numerous resources available at its disposal, it seems shocking that the U.S. is not only failing to live up to expectations during the COVID-19 pandemic, but is even underperforming compared to its ‘underdeveloped’ counterparts. The developed versus developing countries argument states that developed countries attain better standards of living and handle situations better than developing countries, thus predicting a correlation between resources and capability of successfully handling pandemics. Yet surprisingly during this pandemic we see that the mortality burden of COVID-19 actually falls heaviest on ‘developed’ countries. Further, as countries across the globe attempt to curve their number of coronavirus cases, the U.S.—again, one of the most recognized ‘developed’ countries—seems to be responding more similarly to its ‘developing’ counterparts in terms of its rising cases. From experiencing shortages of ICU beds in hospitals to coming to host the world’s epicenter of the pandemic, how did the U.S. end up in this situation? How did one of the most ‘developed’ countries produce one of the worst pandemic outcomes? This article compares the pandemic response of the United States, Brazil, and India to answer this question and shows that the ‘developing’ countries argument does not necessarily correlate with pandemic response. 

Further, as countries across the globe attempt to curve their number of coronavirus cases, the U.S.—again, one of the most recognized ‘developed’ countries—seems to be responding more similarly to its ‘developing’ counterparts in terms of its rising cases.

Surprisingly, while the United States shares many similarities and differences with ‘developed’ countries, in the case of their pandemic response, it parallels more so with those of ‘developing’ countries. By analyzing the United States’ similarities and differences with ‘developing’ countries, one can find similarities in terms of the governments’ pandemic responses, lack of unified decision making, and inadequate healthcare systems. Although this argument focuses primarily on these shared similarities of countries failing at their coronavirus pandemic response, varying factors such as levels of travel, population density, geographic area, and cultural differences may also play important roles in the resulting outcomes. 

Throughout the ongoing pandemic, the U.S. has been in the lead with the most confirmed coronavirus cases, followed by Brazil, then India, both of which are considered ‘developing’ countries. Each country accounts for over one million cases and these numbers continue to rise on a daily basis. Despite each country having access to varying levels of resources based on their development status, we see here that all three countries have a similar trend of increasing COVID-19 cases. 

GOVERNMENTAL RESPONSE

In the case of the United States and Brazil, both governments failed to respond adequately and in a timely manner. The United States’ initial governmental response to the pandemic was filled with disbelief and lacked concern for the issue at hand on the global stage, leaving many other ‘developed’ countries like the United Kingdom in disbelief. From the onset, instead of taking the pandemic threat seriously, President Donald Trump called the virus a “hoax” and failed to deliver timely provisions. Similarly, the Bolsonaro Administration of Brazil had also doubted the severity of the pandemic and was in denial of its detrimental impact. Both countries’ presidents initially ignored scientific findings and denied the existence of the coronavirus and its severity. Adding on to that, both presidents made claims that coronavirus was “just like the flu,” understating the severity of deaths and justifying a focus on economic issues instead. Even though the United States is a ‘developed’ country with vast resources and advanced facilities, its leaders’ initial response—like Brazil’s—failed to recognize the urgency of utilizing their resources towards the pandemic early on.

Now we wonder why both countries had similar responses despite their differences in resources? The reason for the poor response is due to the fact that both leaders disagreed with the science and continued to create their own rules in efforts to promote their own priorities. They decided to lift their lockdowns too early or never even properly placed a lockdown in their country to begin with. Another flaw was leaving decisions to the states and their government to handle rather than making a national policy. Both countries left mandating masks and creating social distancing rules to the states rather than taking matters into their own hands on a federal level. This allowed for some states to be more lenient with restrictions which in the long run affects those states who had strict requirements. That eventually creates setbacks for the country as a whole in eliminating the virus because some states are having a surge of cases while others aren’t, leading to a divided country. Additionally, both leaders have been seen not wearing a mask themselves, setting an impression that masks aren’t necessary. These countries had a “failed” response to the pandemic due to the lack of leadership found in their leaders. 

HEALTHCARE RESPONSE

The United States and India have both been struggling with their healthcare response during the pandemic as well. Although it may not be surprising that both countries have a lot of differences in their healthcare system, they also share much in common. Both of them, for example, have a decentralized public healthcare system. With this system, most healthcare decisions are made by local or state authorities rather than the federal government. With the ongoing pandemic, the decentralized system resulted in chaos as it allowed for a variety of uncoordinated healthcare decisions to be made. Additionally, when looking at the healthcare systems’ responses to the pandemic of each country, we see similar resulting deficiencies in personal protective equipment (PPE), hospital beds, ventilators, and spaces in ICU units. This ultimately made both countries unable to handle the unexpected surge of incoming patients. India being a ‘developing’ country and the U.S. being a ‘developed’ country, what lead both into the same predicament?

The United States has been known to spend more per capita on healthcare than any other OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) peer. From just looking at these statistics, it seems as if the U.S. must have the best healthcare due to their significant spending but this isn’t the case. The U.S. has a flawed healthcare system which spends so much on healthcare only to provide coverage for just 90% of the population which is significantly less compared to other OECD countries. On top of that, there are many unnecessary expenses and barriers to healthcare which make it more of a commodity rather than a necessity. The reason the U.S. has the same predicament as India is the lack of emphasis on universal healthcare that is adequate enough to support the entire population. Also, the U.S. did not develop enough supplies and even prepare for the pandemic beforehand with its delayed government response.

India has a population of 1.38 billion people while the United States only has 330 million people. The difference may explain why India is struggling to cater to people in hospitals, but at the same time develops the case that the United States hasn’t done enough for its people in handling a pandemic and being able to guarantee health care. The fact that India has a larger population density and less resources than the United States, yet still has fewer cases than the United States suggests that the U.S. has failed to utilize its resources effectively. 

The fact that India has a larger population density and less resources than the United States, yet still has fewer cases than the United States suggests that the U.S. has failed to utilize its resources effectively.

ACROSS THE GLOBE

On the other hand, there were many countries that were applauded for their efficient and well-organized pandemic response. Canada, a neighbor of the United States, is a good example of this. Canada’s universal healthcare system made it well suited to handle the COVID-19 pandemic since it allowed all citizens to receive health care efficiently by increasing COVID testing and space in ICU units. This is important as the spread of the pandemic requires testing of as many citizens as possible. Additionally, unlike the U.S, Canada decided to listen to scientists and initiate a plan with no delay. Another example would be Australia, in which the government decided to put aside their political difference and let the scientists lead. Their government’s response led to a high success rate and a low rate of cases. In addition to these examples from ‘developed countries,’ Vietnam is a successful example from a ‘developing country.’ Although equipped with less resources and located near the original epicenter of the outbreak making it more susceptible to infected travelers, Vietnam implemented strict quarantine regulations early on and ramped up its testing capacity. These countries, together, are some examples of successful responses to the pandemic irregardless of development status.

WHAT WENT WRONG:

Combining the United States’ downfall in both government response and healthcare efficiency, we can then answer the question posed at the beginning of this article: “How did the U.S. end up in this situation?” The United States first went wrong with its delayed response to the pandemic. The government should have responded earlier rather than initially considering it a “hoax” and being internally split on the issue. The U.S. should have followed expert advice on the pandemic to make sure their decisions were accurate and backed up by research proven to diminish the spread of COVID-19, rather than be divided along political party lines.On top of that, the U.S. government lacked leadership by not mandating masks and social distancing, as well as not following and enforcing changing CDC guidelines as new research releases. With the delayed response, the U.S. not only made itself a danger for other countries due to rapid spread, but also became a danger for its own citizens. If the federal government had been more involved and serious about this matter from the onset, hospitals would have been prepared in advance with sufficient equipment and COVID testing, which would have made consequent responses more efficient and rapid. The governmental lag of an accurate and powerful response led the U.S. to handle the pandemic in a disorderly and dismissive manner, causing the U.S.’s coronavirus cases to surge exponentially.

FUTURE INSIGHT:

It illuminates the idea that the stature and power of a country does not guarantee successful responses to disasters, such as fighting pandemics, if the government isn’t able to look past differences in political opinions,

These comparisons were made to shed light on the unfortunate outcome the United States has experienced in their pandemic response. It illuminates the idea that the stature and power of a country does not guarantee successful responses to disasters, such as fighting pandemics, if the government isn’t able to look past differences in political opinions, follow rules developed by highly educated agencies, and respond to the problem at hand in a reasonable manner. The COVID-19 pandemic has also highlighted that ‘developed’ countries will not always fare better than ‘developing’ countries simply because they have more resources. Further, it shows that labels of ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries fail to equally acknowledge the failures present in all countries regardless of level of development. Instead, these labels only serve to create inaccurate predictions of disaster response and inequitable, unnecessary hierarchies. In the future, the U.S. government should take a firm, unbiased stance and allocate resources towards preparation for pandemics earlier on by listening to expert advice, setting examples for the public and—most importantly—taking a national, centralized approach. It should not rely only on having plentiful resources but managing those resources well. Moving forward, then, we hope the U.S. government is able to learn from its mistakes seen during this pandemic and handle pervasive events better in the future.

Edited by Mila Ho

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