Aug 8 , 2020
By Eden Sahle
Under what seems like a state of political, economic and public health pandemonium, there is an institution that seems to have a steady foot - the Ministry of Health.
No doubt, it is underfunded, suffers from the inefficiency and the institutional inertia that federal and local agencies are infamous for. And given the nature of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, which has proven devastating even for developed countries, the cards were already stacked high against it.
But the Ministry has also shown that, for all its shortcomings, it is possible to substantially improve accountability and resourcefulness if there is a will to serve the public’s need.
A good story that can shed light upon this is the experience of a friend of mine who was diagnosed with COVID-19 last month. A medical doctor himself, the inadequate provision of protective equipment did not stop him and his colleagues from carrying out their jobs. But his line of work, which has high exposure to the virus, also meant that he caught it.
During random testing that was carried out at his place of work, he tested positive and was immediately taken to Zewditu Hospital. Like many patients, he was asymptomatic, but becuase he could still pass it on to others, he was admitted to the hospital until his full recovery.
He received daily medical checkups and was freely provided with nutritional meals to speed up his healing process. He was lucky, having beaten the virus in just a couple of weeks. He was granted the immediate help and support he needed that allowed him to get back to his medical practice.
His inspiring testimony says a great deal about the Ministry’s and the Ethiopia Public Health Institute’s priorities and the commendable work they are trying to do on the ground. The leadership has been consistent in its messaging and rigorous on its insistence of protective measures early on.
Perhaps most astounding is the number of tests that have been conducted. At around half a million, this is well ahead of Nigeria and Egypt. It is an encouraging development that, together with the current ubiquity of protective material such as disinfectant and face masks, should give people cause for optimism.
At the moment, there is justified apprehension about the state of the pandemic, which once seemed to have been nipped in the bud. The number of cases has risen to the tens of thousands within a short period, and community transmission is in full bloom. It is not clear, nonetheless how much of this is the agencies fault.
Gatherings and demonstrations are becoming common, and restaurants and cafes are filling up. People have become negligent once the initial apprehension about the virus faded away. Even worse, the people attending these public gatherings and events are being seen without protective masks and in very close proximity with one another, overlooking physical distancing guidelines. It is unfortunate that this is happening even at a time when the virus is surging across the country.
Here, there is not much health agencies will be able to do. Addressing the outbreak was supposed to be approached holistically, and the goodwill of people was indispensable. In the absence of this, it is near impossible to guarantee that the virus will not continue to spread at high numbers.
In Ethiopia, it is unusual to witness an institution doing its job. But it is inspiring that we see changes. Health institutions have risen to the challenge with a reasonable amount of success given its lack of funding and where they have had to start from. However, they will require support as COVID-19 is unlike anything that we have encountered before in a century.
It should alarm us that the country's infection rate is moving ahead of what the weak health system can handle. Our best option is the preventive measures and reminding ourselves of how fatal and serious this pandemic is.
The consequence of avoiding our responsibility means people losing their lives or falling ill, schools remaining closed, unemployment skyrocketing and the fragile economy crumbling under its weight. All of this will happen merely because people become negligent.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, everyone should be accountable to act responsibly, limiting physical distance with others and wearing masks properly. Caution must be strictly practised both at the public and government level. There should be no exception that compromises public well-being.
People who are losing their lives and those who are ill could have been spared had we all done what was expected of us. The onus is not only on the shoulders of the health agencies; it lies on all of our shoulders.
PUBLISHED ON Aug 08,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1058]
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