The informal settlements of the Global South are the least prepared for the pandemic of COVID-19 since basic needs such as water, toilets, sewers, drainage, waste collection, and secure and adequate housing are already in short supply or non-existent. Further, space constraints, violence, and overcrowding in slums make physical distancing and self-quarantine impractical, and the rapid spread of an infection highly likely. Residents of informal settlements are also economically vulnerable during any COVID-19 responses. Any responses to COVID-19 that do not recognize these realities will further jeopardize the survival of large segments of the urban population globally. Most top-down strategies to arrest an infectious disease will likely ignore the often-robust social groups and knowledge that already exist in many slums. Here, we offer a set of practice and policy suggestions that aim to (1) dampen the spread of COVID-19 based on the latest available science, (2) improve the likelihood of medical care for the urban poor whether or not they get infected, and (3) provide economic, social, and physical improvements and protections to the urban poor, including migrants, slum communities, and their residents, that can improve their long-term well-being. Immediate measures to protect residents of urban informal settlements, the homeless, those living in precarious settlements, and the entire population from COVID-19 include the following: (1) institute informal settlements/slum emergency planning committees in every urban informal settlement; (2) apply an immediate moratorium on evictions; (3) provide an immediate guarantee of payments to the poor; (4) immediately train and deploy community health workers; (5) immediately meet Sphere Humanitarian standards for water, sanitation, and hygiene; (6) provide immediate food assistance; (7) develop and implement a solid waste collection strategy; and (8) implement immediately a plan for mobility and health care. Lessons have been learned from earlier pandemics such as HIV and epidemics such as Ebola. They can be applied here. At the same time, the opportunity exists for public health, public administration, international aid, NGOs, and community groups to innovate beyond disaster response and move toward long-term plans.
Keywords: Community health; Coronavirus; Equity; Global health; Informal settlements; Slums.