Group of Experts

The economy of the pandemic and
social protection in Latin America

COVID-19 and social protection for poor and vulnerable groups


Report of the third meeting. April 24, 2020, 9: 30-11: 00 a.m. (New York time)

The third meeting focused on the social protection of the poor and vulnerable population of Latin America, defined as those that are marginalized and excluded the most from society. The discussion provided an opportunity for attendees to discuss about the measures to be taken in the short and long term in order to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on this population. Some of the measures implemented by different countries in the region, were presented.

Nora Lustig and Mariano Tommasi presented their work on COVID-19 and the social protection of poor and vulnerable groups.

The COVID-19 crisis disproportionately affects the population at the base of the distribution pyramid, that population that was poor before COVID-19 and for which conditions have worsened during the crisis. This population, in addition to being poor due to their income level, suffers from multiple deficiencies ranging from overcrowding and lack of basic services, to the high incidence of health problems and family dysfunctionalities. In addition, within this population, there are groups that face additional deficiencies, among them children, the elderly, women, the disabled, migrants and the LGBT population.

It is estimated that the effect of the COVID-19 crisis on the poor and vulnerable population will be of great magnitude. ECLAC calculations suggest that due to the crisis, in the region, the number of poor will increase by 30 million, and the number of extreme poor, by 16 million. The COVID-19 crisis interacts with the shortcomings of the poor and vulnerable population, worsening pre-existing conditions. It is then, extremely important, to design policy measures that allow mitigating the negative impact of the crisis on this population. This is an ethical principle but also a measure to avoid irreversible effects on human capital. Additionally, due to their pre-existing conditions, this population has a higher risk of contagion and of becoming a focus of the virus. It is then essential to focus on them to prevent externalities on the general population.

The protection strategy for the poor and vulnerable population must be designed with the objective of preserving life, livelihood and human capital. Carrying out this strategy requires money (cut resources in some sectors), centralization of state action to coordinate multi-level interventions, and collaboration with local organizations who can perform the targeting task even better than the state.

Recommendations to reduce the epidemiological risk of disease and death are divided between those that can and should be carried out urgently (during the emergency), and those that can be implemented after the emergency. Among the measures that must be implemented during the emergency, it is highlighted to guarantee access to essential products for the prevention of COVID-19 (for example, drinking water and soap), guarantee access to basic food and income, facilitate connectivity, and enable spaces to isolate vulnerable people. Measures to be implemented after the emergency include increasing access to public services, offering free testsing, and universalizing connectivity and banking.

On the other hand, regarding recommendations to ensure livelihood, access to basic services and the protection of human capital, it is essential to guarantee access to an income, food and basic services (this means that access to basic services should not be interrupted in case of non-payment). Some additional concerns should be the mitigation of domestic violence, education maintenance and the concern for especially vulnerable groups.


Lessons learned from previous meetings

  • UNDP and GRANDATA alliance to put into operation a tool that allows analyzing compliance with social distancing measures.
  • To increase the sample processing capacity, Colombia began to implement the Dofman (1943) strategy of combined samples described by Eduardo Engel during the second meeting.


Additional materials

Presentation by Nora Lustig and Mariano Tommasi: "COVID-19 and the social protection of poor and vulnerable groups"



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