Just seven weeks after the USA diagnosed its first case of COVID-19, a traveler to Ethiopia tested positive for coronavirus on March 13. The government acted swiftly to:
- Close all public gatherings (March 16)
- Close all land borders (March 20)
- Pardon and release 4,410 prisoners (on March 25)
In addition, early on, eight of the country’s nine regions imposed their own travel bans and lockdowns. Coronavirus messages have even replaced the ringing sound on phones before someone answers.
Nonetheless, the virus has spread throughout much of the country. Of those tested, 23 have been positive and 1 has died.
So far the epidemic in Ethiopia has not hit the exponential phase, in which the numbers of cases begins rising sharply and overwhelms the health care system.
Perhaps the measures that the government has taken will stop at least some of that from happening. However, prevention measures are very much more difficult in Africa than in the USA:
- How do you do social distancing when 5 or 6 people live together in a room in crowded slums?
- How do you enforce stay-at-home orders when day laborers who don’t go to work don’t feed their children the next day?
- How do you mandate handwashing for people who have no water, let alone running water?
When the virus indeed forces people to stay home, starvation may kill even more people than COVID-19. Bill Gates warned back on February 25 that the virus could “hit Africa worse than China.”
Hope In View’s board on March 24 asked Ron and Carolyn Klaus to focus on preparing our Ethiopian leaders for this approaching crisis:
- Helping them institute appropriate measures themselves and help their constituencies sort truth from myths about COVID-19.
- Helping them shepherd their people spiritually and practically during this crisis, and equip their own leaders to mobilize others.
- Thinking proactively about a future that none of us have ever imagined.
Our leaders have responded rapidly and positively:
- To prevent transmission of the virus, one closed the barber-shop business on which his family’s income depends, long before the government ordered that.
- Two others have put up handwashing stations in heavily trafficked areas near them.
- Another phoned all 50 of his churches to make sure they were not meeting in large groups. It turns out that many of their small groups continue to meet-seated outdoors and 6 feet apart, and are providing crucial support for one another during this time.
- Others are beginning food drives.
All these brothers and sisters are looking ahead and thinking creatively about the opportunities inherent in a crisis like this. This could actually be one of the greatest opportunities for the gospel that Ethiopia has ever seen. But they may have only 6-8 weeks before the epidemic hits in full force.
We’ll keep you posted on what they come up with. We’re preparing to help in major ways as the dimensions of this crisis become clearer.
Please keep Ethiopia in prayer-and consider sharing what God has given you with these who lack the safety nets that we have here. You can give here.