CONFINED at home while an invisible killer lurks outside gets you to thinking about others. Where are they now, I found myself wondering a few days ago?

What must their lives be like at this moment, and how can they possibly survive this pandemic that has forced almost a quarter of the world’s population into lockdown?

I was thinking of people like Malisela Mbithe, who, when I met her a few years ago, had lost both her teenage daughters to bouts of malaria and pneumonia.

When we met, 60-year-old Malisela was living with her grandchildren and two other orphans she took into her shack in Mathare, one of Nairobi’s largest slums. It’s estimated that there are 2.5 million slum dwellers in 200 settlements in the Kenyan capital – effectively 60% of the city’s entire population.

These sprawling ghettos have a near unimaginable squalor and poverty, where in some cases as many as 10 people live in the single room of a corrugated steel shack.

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In another of the city’s slums, Korogocho, countless people survive by scavenging the gigantic and infamous Dandora illegal dumpsite. There, thousands of tonnes of waste are heaped daily from across the city, including the unfinished food from the flights arriving at Nairobi’s international airport, where almost all the coronavirus cases gained entry into Kenya.

As I know from having witnessed it globally, these slum dwellers of Nairobi are far from alone in the teeming cheek-by-jowl existence and wretchedness that blights their lives. It’s estimated that more than 1.6 billion people worldwide live in substandard housing. Of those, at least 150 million have no home at all. Far from Africa on the Caribbean island of Haiti – the poorest country in the western hemisphere – people in slums like Cite Soleil likewise live one on top of another in an indescribably filthy warren of alleyways and concrete boxes.

During one visit, just after the devastating 2010 earthquake that has since made the situation worse, I was told how 60,000 people crammed into a single kilometre in parts of Cite Soleil. So congested was it that “shift sleeping’’ was common, and families would bed down on a rota basis, four hours inside and four hours in the alleyways outside.

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Such places are the last stop. You can’t fall any further short of being totally destitute or dead. Fragile and vulnerable at the best of times, the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic has left countless millions of folk in places like Cite Soleil, Mathare, Korogocho and many similar hellholes around the world staring into an abyss.

These past days I’ve listened to and read many commentators and politicians of the right talk of how the pandemic signals the return of the nation-state. You don’t have to search far to encounter the glee among some of these right-wing populists who insist the arrival of Covid-19 is proof that globalism is “collapsing” and the need for borders has been “justified”.

What such people fail to recognise is that building walls or falling back on xenophobic dog-whistle politics cannot successfully tackle a virus already shown to ignore borders.

As Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and prime minister of Ethiopia, rightly pointed out in the Financial Times this week, there is a major flaw right now in the strategy to deal with the pandemic. That flaw lies in “unco-ordinated country-specific measures, which, while understandable, remain “myopic, unsustainable and potentially counter-productive”.

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Ahmed is right, too, that a momentary victory by rich countries may give a semblance of accomplishment, but only a global victory can end this pandemic, not a temporary rich countries’ win.

Which takes me back to the question of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable; those who can’t count on the protection of the currently much-vaunted notion of the nation-state.

Who, I wonder, will look out for these people on the brink? To do so is not just about demonstrating true humanity and solidarity, important, desirable and imperative as these qualities are. It also makes complete practical sense.

While rich countries like our own focus on battling the pandemic at home, there is simply no escaping the fact that what happens elsewhere in the world will still affect us.

As one senior UN official put it the other day, the hard truth is that in order for rich countries to protect their own people, it’s only smart to help the poorest countries and communities enable their own response to the virus.

Is it really that difficult to comprehend that by ignoring or abandoning those most at risk from the pandemic, this only makes it unsafe for all of us?

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Turning our backs is not just morally reprehensible, but only serves to seal our own susceptibility to the continued presence of the coronavirus. Yet despite the overwhelming evidence to back this assertion up, there are and always will be those who dismiss such concerns as putting the cart before the horse. Protect our own and damn the rest goes their shrill cry.

But the inescapable fact remains that in this instance, no man or woman is or should be an island. We all live in the shadow of the pandemic and it will only continue to blight each and every one of our lives if urgent attention is not given to those often forgotten or hidden in the dark recesses of far-off places.

In the slums of Dhaka and in the Rohingya refugee camps on Bangladesh’s border with Myanmar, the virus will undoubtedly spread and kill. Among the millions of Syrians escaping Idlib province crammed up against the border barrier with Turkey, it will do the same.

In war-ravaged Yemen and Gaza and in failing Venezuela, where healthcare systems had all but collapsed before coronavirus, it will cut its way relentlessly through a population already beleaguered and suffering. In countries like Mali in West Africa, with roughly only one ventilator per million people, it is a death sentence for many.

As Ahmed has said, Covid-19 “recognises none of our natural or manmade diversity: not the colour of our skin, nor our passports, or the gods we worship. For the virus, what matters is the fact of our common humanity.”

Rich or poor, this is precisely why only by using that same common humanity to all our advantage, can we be sure of turning this scourge around.