Three African countries show varied preparations for COVID pandemic

IMAGE: CNS photo/Caritas Accra

By Damian Avevor

ACCRA, Ghana (CNS) — Caritas Ghana has put in place a nine-month emergency response plan with the Ghana Catholic Bishops’ Conference to ensure that the poor and vulnerable receive critical and basic services in the two archdioceses most affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Parishes in the archdioceses of Accra and Kumasi will be asked to help in setting up shelter and feeding centers for those “hardest hit by the lockdown,” Samuel Zan Akologo, executive secretary of Caritas Ghana, said March 28.

A two-week lockdown of cities identified as hot spots for the spread of COVID-19 began March 30. Ghana has recorded more than 150 confirmed cases of the disease and five deaths.

Working from their respective homes, Caritas Ghana’s staff will arrange with the West African country’s security agencies “to ensure access to the poor to provide them with critical services for their survival,” Zan Akologo said.

The church initiative will contribute to national efforts to manage the coronavirus outbreak, support Catholic health facilities, and provide people with spiritual and psychological support, he said.

The bishops’ conference called on Catholic organizations, businesses and individuals to donate protective equipment and other medical supplies to the 46 hospitals and 83 clinics run by the church.

The doctors, nurses and other health professionals “have embraced their jobs as a calling to serve humanity and they do these at the peril of their own lives, those of their families and other patients,” the March 27 letter of appeal said.

The COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning to hit Africa in late March. Two other countries took different approaches.

In Sierra Leone, there were no reported cases of COVID-19 and, in an effort to keep it that way, the West African country closed its borders and declared a 12-month state of emergency.

“If it (the coronavirus) comes, we need to prevent community spread,” said Yembeh Marah of Catholic Relief Services, noting that Sierra Leone’s health system is weak. “If the United States is struggling, imagine what would happen to us,” he said told Catholic News Service March 28.

The 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak left nearly 4,000 people dead in Sierra Leone.

“Ebola arrived as we were trying to recover from a decade of civil war,” Marah said.

Among the dead were many doctors and other health workers, he said, noting that “it’s extremely difficult to replace doctors in this country.”

Because of this, “we have a strong understanding of the threat the coronavirus poses,” he said. “Our experience means that when we have a case, we’ll know what we have to do.”

Providing accurate information “stops rumor-mongering” and is therefore crucial among prevention methods, Marah said. “For example, some people here are saying the coronavirus is a disease that doesn’t affect Africans,” he said.

During the Ebola epidemic, CRS assisted people in the affected region, not only through information campaigns, but by providing safe and dignified burials, emergency food distributions, and infectious disease prevention and control. The outbreak in West Africa had more than 28,000 confirmed cases and more than 11,000 deaths.

“We are recognized for that work by both the government and the religious community in Sierra Leone,” Marah said.

In Congo, in central Africa, Cardinal Fridolin Ambongo Besungu of Kinshasa criticized the government’s postponement of a lockdown in the capital city of close to 12 million people.

This “gives the impression that the government is groping in the management of such a delicate matter. The health of our people is in danger,” he told a March 28 press briefing after Kinshasa’s authorities called off a four-day lockdown.

“Let’s not play with the lives of our people, because life is sacred,” he said.

For a lockdown to succeed, it must be accompanied by humanitarian emergency measures such as making basic foods available to the most disadvantaged and ensuring water and electricity provision, the cardinal said.

The Kinshasa local government’s decision to delay strict confinement measures followed steep rises in food prices and security threats resulting from the lockdown announcement. Congo has recorded 98 cases of COVID-19, with eight deaths.

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Contributing to this report were Godfrey Olukya in Kampala, Uganda, and Bronwen Dachs in Cape Town, South Africa.


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