Update from Korah, Ethiopia
Like the rest of the world, Ethiopia is bracing for the worst as a nation and within communities as the virus gains momentum. There are 92 known cases, 15 new cases, 63 are active, and 51 of those are critical, 15 have recovered, and there have been three deaths. On April 8, 2020, Ethiopia announced a state of emergency to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Moreover, the fact is, Ethiopia is not in a good position to respond. Little preparation was made before the first COVID-19 case. The government initially made do mainly with passing on prevention advice from the WHO.
According to World Bank data, there are just 0.3 hospital beds for every 1,000 people in Ethiopia, compared to 3.4 in Italy, 6.5 in France, and 2.9 in the U.S. Only a few hundred intensive care units are believed to be available, along with 435 ventilators in the country with only 54 in working condition. There may soon be a need for tens of thousands.
As a demonstration of Ethiopia’s challenging health situation, the COVID-19 epidemic is spreading alongside a yellow fever outbreak in the Gurage Zone of Southern Nations and Cholera in Southern Nations, Oromia, Hawassa, Shashemene, and the Somali region. There are also ongoing measles outbreaks across Ethiopia, with Oromia the worst affected. Yellow fever reappeared in Ethiopia in 2012 after a 50-year absence.
The coronavirus can sow chaos in Ethiopia due to the country’s already formidable economic and social challenges. On the one hand, the public health risks presented by COVID-19 are vast. Living and working conditions are highly conducive for transmission, as people live in crowded intergenerational households that often lack running water.
Allowing economic activity to continue unchecked could lead to millions of infections within months, with severe cases quickly overwhelming an already weak health system with only a few hundred ventilators and fewer than 500 intensive care units. In 2016, only around 2% of Ethiopia’s clinics had oxygen delivery devices.
A lockdown would deprive millions of Ethiopians of their livelihoods, including many subsist on daily earnings from the informal service economy. It could also squeeze domestic food supply at a time when annual inflation is more than 20%. Given these economic frailties, the country’s leaders have sought a middle path between measures to slow the disease’s spread, and a more Draconian approach they fear would, because of economic consequences, be more harmful than the virus itself.
Vital imports such as fuel, medicine, and fertilizer may become scarce if dwindling hard currency reserves are depleted further because of reduced sales for top earners such as Ethiopian Airlines. Which, although it continues to operate, has seen a dramatic decline in business. Flower exporters, combined with slowing remittances and other inflows.
Either scenario or some combination of the two could lead to serious unrest. If the virus grabs hold and many Ethiopians find themselves without sufficient resources to care for their families, they could turn against authorities they perceive to be incompetent. Alternatively, if the state takes public health measures that make it impossible for people to provide for themselves, it could provoke a similar reaction.
The possibility of disturbances makes it all the more critical for the government to bend over backward to foster unity among diverse constituencies supporting the political path it chooses through the crisis, even as it arrogates to itself extraordinary unilateral powers. The hard truth is in communities like Korah, where many are illiterate and depend on getting food from the dump. There is a disconnection between the broader risk of getting Coronavirus and the daily need to survive.
Social distancing is not a likely option when you have 5 – 6 people crammed in a one-room house or when people rely on public transportation to get around. There are still groups of people gathering on the streets daily, standing shoulder to shoulder in line for a taxi. Many do not have the financial capability to store food.
Not only that but in a community where religion is intertwined with culture, people have a hard time understanding that going to church is a risk for their health. They often assume if they have enough faith, God will protect them from the virus.
At OA, we are doing our best to be proactive to help the staff, the students, and families who are a part of our program. To date, we have purchased 240 hand sanitizers for the students, their families, and our staff from a local pharmacy. It was a miracle to get the sanitizer since there was a lot of demand with low supplies.
We are appointed to receive 90% alcohol next week to make hand sanitizer. After we receive the alcohol, we plan to distribute the hand sanitizer to all the students’ families. We have invited health professionals to teach them about the coronavirus’s seriousness and show them the proper ways to protect themselves against it.
Some of you may be asking why we aren’t purchasing soap instead of sanitizer. The answer is simple. There is no adequate access to running water in Korah. The village has been over 15 days without delivery of water.
Like we said in our last update, all the students are home from school right now. We have one on one weekly life skills training for new students. The students were given a lesson on approaching God in prayer and of God’s significant promise in eternity. Our staff also counsel college students, university students, and boarding students on various Coronavirus issues.
Since Ethiopia is not allowing gatherings of more than four people in a group, we have not been able to have our daily feeding program. We have decided to give a monthly stipend to each student in our program to help their families feed them during this crisis. We will continue to do this on a month-to-month basis depending on the need.
Yesterday, we found out that the ministry of education has decided to continue school for elementary students (grades 1-8) via the 94.7 radio station. The schedule was distributed to the government schools. We are notifying families about the change.
The schools are providing handouts and worksheets to elementary (1-8) students. Then, the assignments will be collected every 15 days. At that time, they will be given other readings and assignments.
The high school students (grades 9-12) have also started learning through the Television on Afro health and Ministry of Education TV. The frequencies are adjusted accordingly. For the high school (9-12) students, the school uses social media to distribute learning materials and collect feedback.
If there is no radio or television, the school will be responsible for assessing the students’ grades, area of living and report to the Wereda Education department to look for support. In all broadcasting, only basic subjects will be given to students.
Distance learning will be a challenge for most students in our program because there is no electricity in Korah. Most have no access to the internet or radio. Our staff is meeting today to discuss options on how to serve students during this time best. We will update once we have more information.
Lastly, years ago, we joined a KORAH movement, where we elevated the importance of being FOR the people of Korah, FOR the businesses in Korah, and unifying with other organizations in Korah doing great work. We decided we are better together, stronger together, more impactful together.
We are proud to share that one of our partners in FOR KORAH, Carry 117, is dedicating two sewing machines and two employees, Atkilt and Meskerum, to making hundreds of fabric masks Out of the Ashes staff, their families, and all of the students. We are so honored to have received this fantastic gift! For more information on this alliance, visit FORKORAH.com.
How You Can Help
- Please Pray.
- Pray for safety and provision for the people of Korah.
- Pray for people to take the warnings seriously to distance and wash hands regularly.
- Pray for our Ethiopian staff as they make daily decisions about supporting students and families in this crisis.
- Pray for our students that have challenges with distance learning.
Some days I am overwhelmed at the thought of how the people on the streets of Korah will survive this pandemic. I wonder who will take care of them if the virus gets worse. We are thankful for your support and continued prayers as we face this challenge together.