Update from Korah, Ethiopia
Like the rest of the world, Ethiopia is bracing and preparing for the worst as a nation and within the communities as the virus gains momentum. As of today, there are 92 known cases, 15 new cases, 63 are active and 51 of those are critical, 15 have recovered and there have been 3 deaths. On April 8, Ethiopia announced a state of Emergency to help 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 and 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 episodes in Southern Nations and Oromia, including Hawassa and Shashemene towns, and in the Somali region. There are also ongoing measles outbreaks across Ethiopia, with Oromia the worst affected and Yellow fever reappeared in Ethiopia in 2012 after a 50-year absence.
The coronavirus has the potential to sow chaos in Ethiopia due to the country’s already formidable economic and social challenges. On 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 inter-generational households that often lack running water. Allowing economic activity to continue unchecked could lead to millions of infections within months, with serious cases quickly overwhelming an already weak health system that has only a few hundred ventilators and fewer than 500 intensive care units. In 2016, only around 2 percent of Ethiopia’s clinics had oxygen delivery devices.
A lockdown would deprive millions of Ethiopians of their livelihoods, including many who subsist on daily earnings from the informal service economy. It could also squeeze domestic food supply at a time when annual inflation is at more than 20 per cent. 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) and flower exporters, combined with slowing remittances and other inflows. 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 that they rightly or wrongly fear would, because of its economic consequences, be even more harmful than the virus itself.
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 whom 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 important for the government to bend over backwards to foster unity among diverse constituencies in support of 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 their 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 or 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 on a daily basis, people standing shoulder to shoulder in line for a taxi and 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, and often assume if they have enough faith, God will protect them from the virus.
At OA, we are doing our best to be proactive in order 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 our own hand sanitizer. After we receive the alcohol, we are planning to distribute the hand sanitizer to all the students’ families. We have invited Health professionals to teach them about the seriousness of the coronavirus and show them the proper ways to protect themselves against it. Some of you may be asking why we aren’t purchasing soap instead or sanitizer and 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 are having one on one weekly life skills training for new students. The students were given a lesson on how to approach God in prayer and of the big promise given by God in eternity. Our staff are also counseling college students, university students and boarding students on various issues regarding Coronavirus.
Since Ethiopia is not allowing gatherings of more than 4 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.
We found out yesterday that the ministry of education has decided to continue school for the elementary students (grades 1-8) via the 94.7 radio station. The schedule was distributed to the government schools, and we are notifying the 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 and given other readings and assignments.
The high school students (grades 9-12) have also started learning through the Television (Afro health and Ministry of Education TV. The frequencies are adjusted accordingly). For the high school (9-12) students, the school uses social media as a platform to distribute the learning materials and collect feedback.
In the case where there is no Radio or Television for the students, the school will be responsible to assess the student grade, area of living and report to the Wereda Education department to help look for support. In all the broadcasting, only basic subjects will be given to the students.
Distance learning is going to be a challenge for most of the students in our program because there is no electricity in Korah and most have no access to the internet or radio. Our staff is meeting today to discuss options on how to best serve our students during this time. We will update once we have more information.
Lastly, Years ago, we joined a movement called FOR KORAH, 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 so proud to share that one of our partners in FOR KORAH, Carry 117 is dedicating two of their sewing machines, and two of their employees, Atkilt and Meskerum, to making hundreds of fabric masks for the Out of the Ashes staff and their families and all of our students. We are so honored to have received this amazing gift!! For more information on this alliance visit FORKORAH.com.
How you can help Out of the Ashes:
1. Please Pray.
2. Pray for safety and provision for the people of Korah.
3. Pray for people to take seriously the warnings to distance and wash hands regularly.
4. Pray for our Ethiopian staff as they are having to make daily decisions about how to best support the students and families in this time of crisis.
5. 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.