Impacts of COVID-19 in the Middle East and North Africa
Team profile by Ahmad Ahmireh, Nora Benmamoun, Sama Elmahdy, Mihret Gebru, Hadeel Hamoud, Parmida Jamshidi, Samantha Wind, Miranda Wolford, Ekta Patel and Erika Weinthal
Despite having varying capacities, many nations across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) were swift in their initial response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, making use of strict lockdowns and public health measures to contain the virus. Yet, with the emergence of new waves, it became clear that preexisting vulnerabilities and inequities would heighten the impact of the lingering pandemic and create new challenges, particularly in areas with fragile economies, weak public health sectors, dependencies on humanitarian aid, and high numbers of vulnerable people such as refugees.
To examine the diverse impacts of COVID-19 across the MENA with a particular focus on water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), our team of eight undergraduate students worked on several projects throughout the year, commencing with country profiles on Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Palestine, and Yemen. These detailed profiles, available on the team website, present systematic information on domestic government responses to COVID-19 through the end of 2020 and spotlight research on underreported topics such as the implications of tech-enabled solutions, medical brain drain in Egypt, and supply-chain problems across the MENA.
While we used fall 2020 to discuss emerging literature, news coverage, databases, and various methods to understand the pandemic’s effects on the region, spring 2021 was devoted to diving deeper into independent projects on those underreported topics that students developed individually or in pairs. These included exploring the impact of COVID-19 on humanitarian organizations in Yemen, detailing the domestic implications of international sanctions in Iran, comparing the vaccine rollout cross-nationally, and analyzing changes in international monetary aid. Two of these projects, which make use of rich narratives, interviews, and surveys, will extend into summer 2021. One, led by Sama Elmahdy and Hadeel Hamoud, maps the WASH infrastructure in Egypt and Sudan with support from a Bass Connections Student Research Award. The other, headed by Nora Benmamoun and Samantha Wind, compares humanitarian organizations within Yemen and how they have adapted to changing circumstances.
Although we faced our own challenges with the class being entirely virtual, we were able to take advantage of several opportunities to enrich our year. These included inviting organization leaders and scholars at the forefront of the COVID-19 response and research to (virtually) speak with the class, and one occasion, to the broader Duke community in partnership with Duke’s student-run Juhood Magazine. As our year’s work wraps up, we remain optimistic that the responses we see from the humanitarian sector across the MENA and the insights we have gathered from our research will help identify ways in which the region can continue to build resilience through and beyond this pandemic.