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COVID-19 Response in Emerging Market Economies: Conventional Policies and Beyond

COVID-19 Response in Emerging Market Economies: Conventional Policies and Beyond

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By Martin Mühleisen, Tryggvi Gudmundsson, and Hélène Poirson Ward

The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on emerging market economies far exceeded that of the global financial crisis. Unlike previous crises, the response has been decisive just like in advanced economies. Yet, conventional policies are reaching their limit and unorthodox policies are not without risks.

A pandemic still unfolding

COVID-19 is still to play out fully in the emerging market universe (see chart for country list), posing risks to both people and economies. While countries such as China, Uruguay, and Vietnam have managed to contain the virus, others such as Brazil, India, and South Africa continue to grapple with a rise in infections.

Emerging markets are likely to face an uphill battle.

The economic impact has been even more severe as emerging market economies were buffeted by multiple shocks. Compounding the effects of domestic containment measures has been a decline in external demand. Particularly hit are tourism-dependent countries due to a decline in travel and oil exporters as commodity prices plummeted. With global trade and oil prices projected to drop by more than 10 percent and 40 percent respectively, emerging market economies are likely to face an uphill battle. This is even as capital outflows have stabilized and sovereign spreads retreated compared to the sharply volatile market conditions seen in March.

Not surprisingly, the IMF’s latest June World Economic Outlook Update projects emerging market economies to shrink by 3.2 percent this year—the largest drop for this group on record. By way of comparison, in the global financial crisis, growth for the group took a significant hit but still bottomed out at a positive 2.6 percent in 2009.

A decisive policy response

The crisis would have been worse still without the extraordinary policy support. For sure, decisive policy actions in advanced economies led to a turnaround in market conditions that allowed emerging market economies to resume external financing efforts in April and May, which contributed to record levels of bond issuance so far this year—to the tune of $124 billion as of the end of June. But not all countries have seen improved fortunes. Fuel exporters, frontier countries and those with high debt are experiencing a greater financial shock that pushed up borrowing costs, or even worse, denied them further access to markets.

Policy support by advanced economies provided emerging market economy policymakers with wiggle room to soften the economic blow. Unlike previous episodes, where emerging market economies tended to tighten policy to avoid rapid capital outflows and the inflationary effect of exchange rate depreciations, the current crisis has seen emerging market economies’ policy reaction more in line with that of advanced economies (see the IMF’s policy tracker). Most emerging market economies used reserve buffers more sparingly and allowed exchange rates to adjust to a larger extent, while many countries injected liquidity as needed to ensure market functioning. Countries like Poland and Indonesia further eased macroprudential policies to support credit.

Like their more advanced peers, many emerging market economies, including Thailand, Mexico, and South Africa, eased monetary policy during this cycle. In a few cases, limited room to cut policy rates further and distressed market conditions induced use of unconventional monetary policy measures for the first time. These included purchases of government and corporate bonds, although the amounts remain modest so far compared to the larger advanced economies. Conversely, the use of capital flow measures to deter capital outflows has been quite limited so far.

A similar picture is evident on the fiscal policy front. Emerging market economies have relaxed their fiscal stance in an attempt to tackle the health crisis, support people and firms, and offset the economic shocks. While more modest than that of advanced economies, these efforts were significantly greater than during the global financial crisis.

From conventional to unorthodox policies

Despite these actions, the outlook for emerging market economies remains clouded by considerable uncertainty. Chief among many risks is the possibility of a more prolonged health crisis, which would hurt more lives and could have dire economic consequences. Confronting a more severe downturn will be challenging because most emerging markets entered the current crisis with limited room for traditional fiscal, monetary, and external policy support. And much policy room has already been used up by actions undertaken in recent months.

Dwindling policy space may force some countries to take recourse to more unorthodox measures. From price controls and trade restrictions to more unconventional monetary policy and steps to ease credit and financial regulation. Some of these measures—which are also being implemented by some advanced and low-income economies—have significant costs, particularly if used intensively. Export restrictions, for example, could seriously distort the multilateral trading system, and price controls hamper the flow of goods to those who need it most.

The effectiveness of other unorthodox policies will depend on the credibility of the institutions; for instance, whether a country has a track record of credible monetary policy. As we navigate the contours of the ongoing crisis, little time is available to properly analyze the risks and benefits of these actions in a careful manner.

Not out of the woods yet

Emerging market economies have navigated the first phase of the crisis relatively well, but the next phase could be much more challenging. The virus remains present, financial conditions are still fragile, and policy space is lower, particularly for those countries facing high risks to debt sustainability. The latter group of countries is quite large. Approximately one third of all emerging market economies entered the crisis with high-debt levels and are assessed to have no space for undertaking additional discretionary fiscal policy, or as having that space significantly at risk.

As the crisis develops, there is also a high risk that liquidity problems morph into solvency concerns. Besides sovereign debt stresses, corporate default risks are alarmingly high in a number of emerging market economies. Moreover, the crisis has hit poor people much harder, and this increase in inequality will amplify policy challenge in many countries.

The complexity of these challenges requires a multi-faceted policy response. First, domestic policies will need to be designed to allow for more durable and inclusive growth. Second, increased support from bilateral and multilateral lenders will be required where market access remains precarious. So far, the IMF has provided 22 emerging market economies with approximately $72 billion (SDR 52 billion) in financial assistance. Finally, for countries where debts prove to be unsustainable, timely and durable resolution of these problems will be needed, by seeking broad burden sharing across creditors including in the private sector. The latter two policy angles will be analyzed in two subsequent blogs on IMF lending and the IMF’s role in debt resolution.

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Exosomes Could Improve Inhaled Therapeutics

Instead of disguising vaccines in synthetic lipid nanoparticles, researchers used exosomes as their drug delivery vehicles to the lung. The exosomes are…

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For respiratory diseases, from asthma to COVID-19, inhaled treatments can quickly deliver a drug to the desired target, the lungs. Global health depends on such treatments. As Kristen Popowski, a PhD candidate in comparative biomedical sciences at the North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Raleigh, and her colleagues wrote: “Respiratory diseases are among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide, with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) remaining prevalent in the ongoing pandemic.”

Kristen Popowski [North Carolina State University]
Although lipid nanoparticles offer one delivery vehicle for such treatments, nature creates an obstacle. “The lung has natural defense mechanisms against inhaled particulates, and traditional lipid-nanoparticle vaccines present challenges in cytotoxicity and respiratory clearance,” says Popowski. “A nanoparticle formulation that can withstand these defense mechanisms remains a critical challenge.” So, Popowski and her colleagues explored an alternative approach.

“Instead of disguising vaccines in synthetic lipid nanoparticles, we utilize cell-secreted nanoparticles called exosomes as our drug delivery vehicles to the lung,” Popowski explains. “Our exosomes are secreted from native lung cells and are recognizable by the lung.”

Consequently, she says, “We can minimize pulmonary toxicity and clearance to better deliver and retain vaccines.” In addition, the exosome-based treatments developed by Popowski and her colleagues can be formulated as a dry powder that requires no refrigeration and can have a shelf life of 28 days.

Despite the incentives to take an exosome-based approach to inhaled treatments for respiratory diseases, turning that into a part of bioprocessing requires more research.

“Although commercial manufacturing of exosomes has recently shown extensive improvement, optimization of mRNA loading into exosomes remains a challenge,” Popowski says. “Endogenous mRNA expression through exosome engineering would likely be necessary for large-scale production.”

The post Exosomes Could Improve Inhaled Therapeutics appeared first on GEN - Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.

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War, peace and security: The pandemic’s impact on women and girls in Nepal and Sri Lanka

The impacts of COVID-19 must be incorporated into women, peace and security planning in order to improve the lives of women and girls in postwar countries…

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Nepalese girls rest for observation after receiving the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 in Kathmandu, Nepal. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Attention to the pandemic’s impacts on women has largely focused on the Global North, ignoring countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka, which continue to deal with prolonged effects of war. While the Nepalese Civil War concluded in 2006 and the Sri Lankan Civil War concluded in 2009, internal conflicts continue.

As scholars of gender and war, our work focuses on the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. And our recently published paper examines COVID-19’s impacts on women and girls in Nepal and Sri Lanka, looking at policy responses and their repercussions on the women, peace and security agenda.

COVID-19 has disproportionately and negatively impacted women in part because most are the primary family caregivers and the pandemic has increased women’s caring duties.

This pattern is even more pronounced in war-affected countries where the compounding factors of war and the pandemic leave women generally more vulnerable. These nations exist at the margins of the international system and suffer from what the World Bank terms “fragility, conflict and violence.”

Women, labour and gender-based violence

Gendered labour precarity is not new to Nepal or Sri Lanka and the pandemic has only eroded women’s already poor economic prospects.

Prior to COVID-19, Tharshani (pseudonym), a Sri Lankan mother of three and head of her household, was able to make ends meet. But when the pandemic hit, lockdowns prevented Tharshani from selling the chickens she raises for market. She was forced to take loans from her neighbours and her family had to skip meals.

Some 1.7 million women in Sri Lanka work in the informal sector, where no state employment protections exist and not working means no wages. COVID-19 is exacerbating women’s struggles with poverty and forcing them to take on debilitating debts.

Although Sri Lankan men also face increased labour precarity, due to gender discrimination and sexism in the job market, women are forced into the informal sector — the jobs hardest hit by the pandemic.

Two women sit in chairs, wearing face masks
Sri Lankan women chat after getting inoculated against the coronavirus in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in August 2021. (AP Photo/Eranga Jayawardena)

The pandemic has also led to women and girls facing increased gender-based violence.

In Nepal, between March 2020 and June 2021, there was an increase in cases of gender-based violence. Over 1,750 incidents were reported in the media, of which rape and sexual assault represented 82 per cent. Pandemic lockdowns also led to new vulnerabilities for women who sought out quarantine shelters — in Lamkichuha, Nepal, a woman was allegedly gang-raped at a quarantine facility.

Gender-based violence is more prevalent among women and girls of low caste in Nepal and the pandemic has made it worse. The Samata Foundation reported 90 cases of gender-based violence faced by women and girls of low caste within the first six months of the pandemic.

What’s next?

While COVID-19 recovery efforts are generally focused on preparing for future pandemics and economic recovery, the women, peace and security agenda can also address the needs of some of those most marginalized when it comes to COVID-19 recovery.

The women, peace and security agenda promotes women’s participation in peace and security matters with a focus on helping women facing violent conflict. By incorporating women’s perspectives, issues and concerns in the context of COVID-19 recovery, policies and activities can help address issues that disproportionately impact most women in war-affected countries.

These issues are: precarious gendered labor market, a surge in care work, the rising feminization of poverty and increased gender-based violence.

A girl in a face mask stares out a window
The women, peace and security agenda can help address the needs of some of those most marginalized. (AP Photo/Niranjan Shrestha)

Policies could include efforts to create living-wage jobs for women that come with state benefits, emergency funding for women heads of household (so they can avoid taking out predatory loans) and increasing the number of resources (like shelters and legal services) for women experiencing domestic gender-based violence.

The impacts of COVID-19 must be incorporated into women, peace and security planning in order to achieve the agenda’s aims of improving the lives of women and girls in postwar countries like Nepal and Sri Lanka.

Luna KC is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Research Network-Women Peace Security, McGill University. This project is funded by the Government of Canada Mobilizing Insights in Defence and Security (MINDS) program.

Crystal Whetstone does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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ThreatX raises a fresh round of capital to protect APIs and web apps

ThreatX, a vendor selling API protection services to mainly enterprise clients, today announced that it raised $30 million in a Series B funding round…

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ThreatX, a vendor selling API protection services to mainly enterprise clients, today announced that it raised $30 million in a Series B funding round led by Harbert Growth Partners with participation from Vistara Growth, .406 Ventures, Grotech Ventures and Access Venture Partners. With the new cash, which brings ThreatX’s total raised to $52 million, CEO Gene Fay tells TechCrunch that ThreatX will “accelerate” investments in platform development while scaling sales and marketing initiatives.

The raise highlights investors’ continued confidence in cybersecurity businesses to net returns, despite the current macroeconomic woes. While there’s some evidence that fundraising has begun to slow down, cybersecurity startups raised $2.4 billion between January and June, according to PitchBook. Companies that defend APIs from outside attack have been particularly fruitful, lately, with startups such as Ghost Security and Corsha raising tens of millions of dollars in capital.

ThreatX was co-founded in 2014 by Bret Settle and Andrius Useckas. Prior to starting ThreatX, Settle was VP of enterprise architecture at BMC; Useckas had worked with Bret at BMC, where he was an enterprise security architect. The two were also colleagues at Corporate Express, which was acquired by Staples in 2008, where Useckas came in as an external pen tester.

“Over the course of working together for several years, Settle and Andrius saw a massive gap in the market in terms of solutions to protect BMC’s application portfolio,” said Fay, who was appointed CEO of ThreatX in 2020. “The products available required endless tuning and rule-writing and returned piles of false positives. Through all of this, the notion of innovating in the space — and ThreatX — was born.”

ThreatX offers API protection, bot and DDoS mitigation and traditional web application firewalls (WAF) for first- and third-party web apps. The platform builds a profile of threat actors, leveraging a detection and correlation engine to show which actors are actively attacking and which might pose the greatest threat.

Image Credits: ThreatX

Fay sees ThreatX competing primarily with two categories of cybersecurity vendors. The first are newer API observability tools such as Salt Security and Noname. The second are bot management platforms like Cequence and WAF players such as Akamai, F5 and Imperva, which generally rely on applying rules-based protection to web apps and APIs.

Fay argues that the former group — the bot management and WAF vendors —  tend to offer capabilities that came together through acquisition, so they’re less integrated. As for the latter — the API observability tools — Fay asserts that they often don’t offer web app or bot protection and require offline analysis, which precludes the ability to block attacks in real time.

“The bottom line is that to protect APIs, you must be able to block attacks in real time,” Fay said. “Grabbing data through observation and analyzing it after the fact may be interesting, but it does little from an immediate security standpoint. For our customers, the number one priority is protection — in real time, all the time. That is the value proposition we offer to our customers.”

Real-time protection or no, it’s true that API attacks are a growing cyber threat. Gartner predicts that by 2022, API attacks will become the most frequent attack vector, causing data breaches for enterprise web software.

“The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated use of APIs as companies looked at how they might provide new services to deliver value — and derive revenue — from customers,” Fay added. “As people — both as consumers and professionals — turned to technology to get more done, reliance on both APIs and web applications grew substantially. That, in turn, has increased the need for security in this context — which presents a ton of opportunity for ThreatX.

While Fay demurred when asked about financials, he said that ThreatX currently has “more than” 100 customers. He declined to name any names.

When reached for comment, Harbert Growth Partners general partner Tom Roberts said in a statement:

APIs are a strategic priority for businesses of all sizes and have become a primary target for threat actors. Organizations are now contending with constant threats and require API and web application protection capabilities that can identify and respond to attacks in real time. This need for “real-time attack protection” is driving the API security market toward an aggressive pivot. Based on ThreatX’s strong customer traction and unique product capabilities, we believe the company is well positioned to meet this shift head-on as a valuable partner to businesses looking to secure their attack surface.

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