Long-term strategies to control COVID-19 pandemic must treat health and economy as equally important

Sanitising a public space in Mexico Credit: Eneas De Troya

Strategies for the safe reopening of low and middle-income countries (LMICs) from months of strict social distancing in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic must recognise that preserving people’s health is as important as reviving the economy, argues an international team of researchers.

The team also says that strategies need to be based on local epidemic growth rate at the time, social and economic costs, existing health systems capabilities and detailed plans to implement and sustain the strategy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been responsible for over half a million deaths globally. Many LMICs responded to the pandemic by introducing a number of measures from physical distancing to strict social distancing.

These measures have proved relatively successful in containing the disease and limiting the number of deaths in places where the risk of transmission is high, public health systems and usage are suboptimal and awareness of disease prevention practices is low. However, they have often come with tremendous negative social, economic and psychological effects.

To prevent further negative impacts of lockdown, many countries are now looking to ‘reopen’, risking population health, especially given shortcomings in surveillance infrastructure and poor diagnostic capabilities.   

In a paper published in the European Journal of Epidemiology, a team of epidemiologists from the University of Cambridge, the University of Bern, BRAC University and the National Heart Foundation in Bangladesh, have examined three community-based exit strategies, and recommend their scopes, limitations and the appropriate application in the LMICs.

Dr Rajiv Chowdhury from the University of Cambridge, lead author of the paper, said: “Successfully re-opening a country requires consideration of both the economic and social costs. Governments should approach these options with a mind-set that health and economy both are equally important to protect – reviving the economy should not take priority over preserving people’s health.”

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Image: Sanitising a public space in Mexico
Credit: Eneas De Troya

Reproduced courtesy of the University of Cambridge


The University of Cambridge is acknowledged as one of the world's leading higher education and research institutions. The University was instrumental in the formation of the Cambridge Network and its Vice- Chancellor, Professor Stephen Toope, is also the President of the Cambridge Network.

University of Cambridge (cam.ac.uk)