As some nations emerge from coronavirus lockdowns, 70 countries are reporting a sharp increase in new cases over the past two weeks. India and Mexico, for instance, declare a record number of new cases nearly every day.

Many of these countries lack the infrastructure, living conditions, and administrative capacity to enforce lockdowns like those we've seen in Italy and other rich nations. So while New Zealand may be able to declare itself COVID-free -- even temporarily -- it is very likely that developing countries will be forced to deal with the consequences of the pandemic until there's an affordable and fully effective vaccine.

The COVID-19 outbreak has been a novel experience for many in the West. People were confronted, almost for the first time, with an information vacuum about this scary and dangerous new pathogen. In January, we still knew next to nothing about the disease -- how it spread, who was at greatest risk, how those risks might be mitigated. Confusion, contradiction, and misinformation abounded as public health officials, researchers, and physicians raced to learn more.

In much of the world, including my home country of Pakistan, that is situation normal.

High-quality medical information can be hard to come by. When my grandfather developed Alzheimer's in the 1990s, it took two years even to get a diagnosis. Multiple doctors sent us home, insisting there was nothing wrong with him. Even after I helped him get diagnosed, my family couldn't believe he was suffering from a disease about which there was no information and for which there was no cure. They thought I had made it up.

We face this situation a million times a day in the developing world, and the situation is much worse when a disease is new and our understanding of it is evolving quickly. But as the pandemic spreads and worsens in the developing world, we must bear in mind some key facts in our efforts to control it.

Patients with pre-existing conditions, and the elderly, are uniquely at risk of serious complications from COVID-19. We must prioritize the protection of those who are especially vulnerable.

Healthcare systems in much of the world don't have the same capacity to treat the critically ill as world's richest countries do. Global leaders have a moral duty to ensure that patients are not discriminated against on the basis of age, religion, race, income, or physical condition. And because coronavirus care is not just a private health matter but a public-health concern, we must strive to ensure that ability to pay is not an obstacle to appropriate treatment. Similarly, countries will need to incentivize innovation and encourage private-sector research investments -- after all, new vaccines and treatments are our only hope of stomping out the pandemic.

And critically, we must make sure we are disseminating information that is accurate, accessible, and appropriate. We need people to avoid large gatherings, to be conscious of whom they have contacted if they do get sick, and to take appropriate precautions like wearing masks.

It's one thing to agree on these goals. But it's another to achieve them in a messy world where misinformation abounds, especially in areas where literacy is low and quackery competes with sound medicine.

That's where patient organizations come in. Although health systems worldwide neglected to include patient voices in their pandemic response, patient groups took the lead to assist government agencies. They set up phone hotlines and social media campaigns to share information. They distributed food, provided free medicine, and created support groups for patients with special needs.

Thanks in part to this collaboration, Pakistan has been able to meet the challenge of the coronavirus pandemic. Pakistan has a lower coronavirus death rate than Germany, Canada, and Norway, despite having far fewer resources.

We can be hopeful that the pandemic is coming under control in some parts of the world. But we are far from that point in many other countries. Public health efforts can only be as effective as our simultaneous efforts at public education.

Those efforts must rely on partnerships with local public health and advocacy organizations that have reach where they are needed most -- where information is hard to come by or contradictory, where traditional medicine competes with science, and "coronavirus" sounds as alien as "Alzheimer's" did to my ears when I first heard the word nearly 30 years ago.

Hussain Jafri is the founding director of World Patients Alliance, founder and secretary general of Alzheimer's Pakistan, and vice chair of an advisory group for the World Health Organization's Patients for Patient Safety program (PFPS).

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