So what is it like to live and work during this pandemic in a developing country with a per capita GDP of $772?
Yesterday we had a visit from government health officials who are checking temperatures door to door. Anyone with a temp higher than 37 gets the COVID-19 nasal swab and is confined until results are in. Fortunately no one here had a fever. A previous random test uncovered over 900 fevers that were further tested. COVID-19 positive? Zero.
Every day the Ministry of Health sends out a briefing with the latest COVID-19 data. I just got my update a minute ago. The number of tests conducted in the last 24 hours: 765; number of confirmed cases for the day: 4; total patients in the treatment center: 67; total recovered: 58; total deaths: 3; and total confirmed cases as of today: 130.
This in a week where my home country just passed 1 million cases. The death toll today stands at 61,669.
I’m not saying Ethiopia is perfect in its response. I live in fear of having a temperature over 37C and being taken to one of the government health centers for quarantine or treatment. There are no private clinics that are allowed to treat COVID-19 patents, and self-treatment at home is not an option. But given its limited resources, Ethiopia is responding proactively and thoughtfully. The country is under a COVID-inspired State of Emergency (again–this is the fourth or fifth one since we’ve been here) but has avoided having to resort to a total clamp down of people and movement. So far. These are a few other things it’s been doing. (This is part of a 5-page list, compiled by Alula Pankhurst, Country Director for Young Lives Ethiopia, from public records).
The virus arrived in Ethiopia on March 13. Since then 3 people have died. Ethiopia appears to be keeping things contained for the time being, but predictions are that once the virus takes hold in these parts, it will sweep through the Horn of Africa like a swarm of locusts. That’s an intentional analogy, because there IS a swarm of locusts ravaging its way like a Biblical plague across eastern Africa. Did you know that these bugs can eat as much food in 24 hours as 35,000 people can consume in a day? As if the plague of COVID-19 isn’t enough, here come the desert locusts to ratchet it up a notch.
Food insecurity, erratic rains, locusts, and now the virus with its disrupted supply chains and economic devastation may tip this part of the world into chaos. Even though countries like Ethiopia are moving towards stronger democracies and economies and are moving away from international aid, these latest events have the potential to truly destabilize the region.
“COVID-19 is not just an epidemic, but a highly complex emergency.” –Alex de Waal
And Africa is without the allies–most glaringly the US–it has relied on in the past. I was listening to a podcast from the International Crisis Group, an interview with Alex de Waal, an expert on famine, epidemics, and political power in Africa. (Full disclosure, he is a colleague of my brother-in-law, Daniel Maxwell, at Tuft’s University in Boston.) His remarks reflected some of my own frustrations and concerns so well that I will quote a bit of it here:
[For Africa to receive the necessary aid from the West to deal with COVID-19] “we would need to have an international community that is interested in responding and it’s quite astonishing how in comparison to twenty years ago when we had Kofi Annan at the United Nations–when we had massive collaboration in response to international health threats and even the George Bush presidency … one of the things the Bush administration did was to take a lead in international health and diplomacy before the United States became the biggest funder by some margin of international health. That has entirely been squandered. And the decision recklessly taken for purely domestic reasons by President Trump to attack the WHO, terminate funding, and personally impugn the credibility of the Director General [Ethiopian Dr. Tedros Adhanom], who is of course an African, has been really shocking to many African countries. The idea that the US which they had considered their friend and ally on international public health issues, a country to turn to for assistance in health crises … the fact that US would turn its back on Africa in this way is quite shocking and disturbing.”
What does this dire situation mean for Bruce and my work for MCC in Ethiopia?
It means a whole lot of work. Especially for Bruce, who does the budgets and finances. The global economy is grinding to a halt, and this has hit MCC very hard. MCC raises money in the US and Canada through personal donations, thrift stores, and something called Relief Sales, which are big festivals where people can stuff themselves on homemade Mennonite food and buy quilts, woodwork, handmade items and the occasional livestock animal at auction.
In these times of social distancing and isolation, thrift stores are closed and relief sales cancelled. With unemployment high in North America and many people’s financial situations in jeopardy, giving is expected to fall.
So MCC is reeling. We are trying to trim our budgets and still meet as many of our commitments to our partners as we can. And this is just the beginning. How long will the pandemic last? How long will people be working from home? Or staying at home unemployed or underemployed? How long will the economy be affected by COVID-19? What will that mean for MCC next year? The year after?
It’s very hard to know even how to guess at these questions. But one thing is certain–this part of the world will suffer the combined plagues of COVID-19, locusts, and economic fallout in the coming years. Not just in the coming years, but next month! I know not all of you can give, but if you can, please consider MCC. Many international organizations and governments are going to fail to respond here, for whatever reason. If you can do something now, while MCC has a fighting chance to make a difference, do it. Donate. Serve. Get involved.
And in case you didn’t know, our job is available starting January 1, 2021!