By Lydia O’Kane
Over the last few weeks a number of African countries have reported cases of the Covid-19 virus, with South Africa and Egypt experiencing serious outbreaks.
Catholic aid organisations say that countries such as Malawi, Sierra Leone and South Sudan lack vital equipment including ventilators and intensive care beds to deal with the pandemic.
Fragile health systems
The concern is that if the virus takes a firm hold in countries with a lack of healthcare facilities, due to conflict or economies that can’t support those health structures, the situation could end up being worse than in the United States, or in hard-hit European countries.
The UK based Catholic Aid Agency for Overseas Development, CAFOD is currently helping communities facing the challenges posed by Covid-19.
Matthew Carter is the agency’s Director of Humanitarian Response; he said that their major concern is around countries outside of Europe, particularly in Sub-Saharn Africa, Asia, Middle East, Central and Latin America.
“Many countries in these parts of the world “have incredibly fragile health systems and economies that can’t support those health systems, but also many of those countries that have on going underlying crises, either through drought or through food shortages, and some facing conflict.”
Situation for refugees
He also noted that there are large numbers of refugees who are on the move in groups, or living in cramped refugee camps. That proximity, he said, “increases their vulnerability.”
Mr Carter highlighted in particular communities in the Syrian city of Idlib where there are nearly a million refugees living close together. He added, that the same situations can be seen in Bangladesh where there are nearly a million Rohingya refugees.
The CAFOD Humanitarian Director stressed that “there’s no question it will get to these places”, but he said, preventative measures are key at this time.
CAFOD is currently working with local partners to raise awareness through education.
“Lots of our learning” explained Carter, “has been taken from former programmes which is where the Church worked with the Ebola outbreak, both in West Africa and more recently in the Democratic Republic of Congo…So we’re looking at a whole combination of areas of how we raise awareness with the community… but also ensuring the safety of local experts and partners.”
Importance of faith communities
He pointed out, that in order to raise awareness, there has been a big emphasis on working with Church leaders and other faith communities in order to provide education materials, and get the message out.
CAFOD is also working to install community handwashing facilities with soap and detergent so that people can be safe.
Speaking about the lack of vital equipment such as ventilators, which are not readily available in some countries, he noted that according to statistics, Ethiopia only has around twenty ventilators for the whole country. This is why, he said, “CAFOD’s focus on preparedness, prevention, awareness raising is so important.” “This is the critical time, not in four weeks’ time, to try and avert the scale of this which will affect large parts of the developing world in the most horrific way.”