Policy Briefs

We study the prevalence of COVID-19 symptoms in refugee and host communities and their correlates with current and pre-COVID-19 living conditions. We administered a phone-based survey to a sample of 909 households in Cox’s Bazar which was drawn from a household panel representative of Rohingya refugees and the host population. We find that COVID-19 symptoms are highly prevalent in Cox’s Bazar, especially in refugee camps. Attendance at religious and social events threatens efforts to contain the spread of the disease. Pharmacies and religious leaders are promising outlets to disseminate life-saving information.
Inadequate COVID-19 testing capabilities is producing testing data that cannot be reliably compared across countries or across jurisdictions within low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). This is hampering the ability of LMICs to devise timely and effective policy responses, such as identifying hotspots and spatially targeting public health responses or economic relief. We develop a methodology to make indirect inferences about the spatial distribution of COVID-19 risk using the insight that migration is a primary driver of disease spread across jurisdictional borders.
Policies imposed in rich countries to fight the coronavirus could have adverse effects in low-income nations, potentially endangering more lives than they save. We combine country specific estimates of economic benefits of disease suppression with an epidemiological model to demonstrate that while the benefits of social distancing translate to a 59% savings in US GDP, it only translates to savings of 14% of Bangladesh’s GDP or 19% of India’s GDP. Not only are the epidemiological and economic benefits of social distancing much smaller in poorer countries, such policies may also exact a heavy toll on the poorest and most vulnerable. More work is needed to determine if the low mortality estimates of developing countries hold if the prevalence of comorbidities and exposure to pollution are taken into account.