Berthony Clermont shares a two-room flat without running water with 10 relatives in the Haitian capital’s Cite Soleil slum, so when he fell ill with the novel coronavirus, they all did.

“I tried staying at home at the beginning but it was difficult to isolate myself as the house is too small,” said the 45-year old. Mistrustful of the dilapidated public healthcare in Haiti – the poorest country in the Americas – Clermont and his family treated themselves at home with herbal teas.

Clermont’s plight is shared by many in Haiti and, more broadly, across the Caribbean and Latin America. Home to 654 million people, it is the most unequal region in the world, according to the United Nations.

As governments in Europe and some parts of Asia have managed to stem the spread of coronavirus, Latin America and the Caribbean have emerged as one of the epicenters of the pandemic.

With confirmed cases globally hitting the 10 million mark on Sunday, the region accounts for around a quarter of those.

From Argentina to Mexico, nearly one in five of Latin America’s urban population lives in crowded slums, like Cite de Soleil.

In such poor, densely-packed neighborhoods – with little or no access to running water, sanitation and health facilities – residents struggle to follow even the basic hygiene guidelines that experts recommend to prevent contagion with the highly infectious virus.

And, given a large informal labor sector and insufficient government welfare, many people cannot afford to quarantine – even when they are ill.

Sauveur Desroches, 55, said that even after he started feeling sick with the virus, he kept working for four days at a construction site in Port au Prince.

“But then my body just gave way and I had to stay in bed,” said Desroches, receiving treatment at an emergency COVID-19 facility set up in Cite Soleil by medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF).


The situation is deteriorating fast. The number of cases in Latin America and the Caribbean has more than tripled from 690,000 one month ago to around 2.5 million.

In Brazil and Mexico, which make up more than half the region’s population, populist governments went against scientific opinion and downplayed the threat of the virus, continuing to hold political rallies and resisting lockdowns.

While some smaller countries – such as Costa Rica, Cuba, Uruguay and Paraguay – appear to have tamed their outbreaks by reacting more swiftly and comprehensively, these two regional heavyweights are hitting record numbers of daily cases.   Continue reading

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