COVID-19 Perspective from Congo
First appeared on Diocesan Old Girls’ Association website in “COVID-19: Perspectives from alumnae across the world” on 19 May 2020, with some revisions
Dr Joyce Samoutou-Wong
I grieve with the world at the devastation caused by COVID-19. As of 25 May, there are 487 confirmed cases in Congo, and who knows how many untested. Medically, while Africa carries 23% of the world’s disease burden, it contains only 1% of its financial resources for healthcare and only 3% of its healthcare workforce.1 The African continent has fewer than 2,000 ventilators and fewer than 5,000 ICU beds.2 Economically, it is estimated that Africa may lose half of its GDP and shoulder an additional USD10.6 billion in health spending. As for basic prevention measures, they seem impossible for many:
- Washing your hands: Only 15 percent of sub-Saharan Africans have access to basic hand-washing facilities.3
- Social distancing: More than 80% of Africans are engaged in informal work.4 For them, not going out to work may mean no food for the family.
Living in Congo is like watching developed nations struggling in advanced four-wheel drives, following them on the same track heading towards the same terrifying exponential curve, and wondering how our old rusty car can miraculously swerve to minimise loss and death. Like everyone else, I am battling against the overwhelming sense of helplessness.
One afternoon, before we went into lockdown, I asked our nursing students how they could help the COVID-19 situation. They responded they had no money. We went on to discuss the exponential power of health promotion and how we can all play a part. Right then, they composed a song about prevention and mobilised a group to record it. The song is now on the radio all over the country. More importantly, these youths were empowered, and I saw that while many things are out of our control, we can still do something. That conviction became the lifeline for this challenging season and spurred us on: our charity set up a COVID-19 relief fund, distributed over 12,000 leaflets and recorded interviews, and donated soap and disinfectants. Our children wrote a radio play about COVID-19 that is being broadcast in Congo and other countries. The government Communications Department picked it up and is recording it into 15 local dialects. What our kids had was small and insignificant, and yet like the five loaves and two fish in the hands of Jesus, their efforts made a difference. Indeed, there are many things that we can no longer do, but that cannot stop us from doing what we can with what is in our hands today.
- Anyangwe, Stella C. E., and Chipayeni Mtonga. Inequities in the Global Health Workforce: The Greatest Impediment to Health in Sub-Saharan Africa. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 4 (2): 93–100; 2007.
- Maclean, Ruth and Simon Marks. 10 African Countries Have No Ventilators. That’s Only Part of the Problem. New York Times; 2020 Apr 18, updated Apr 20 (cited 2020 May 4). Available from: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/18/world/africa/africa-coronavirus-ventilators.html
- Blomfield, Adrian and Peta Thornycroft. From denial to brutal lockdown: How Africa’s response to ‘rich man’s’ disease has evolved. The Telegraph; 2020 Apr 6 (cited 2020 Apr 9). Available from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/science-and-disease/denial-brutal-lockdown-africas-response-rich-mans-disease-has/