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A Resident’s Perspective on COVID-19 in Ethiopia

6 weeks have passed since the first case of Covid-19 was reported in my country, Ethiopia. It was the fear of coming to reality. Despite all the news reports on television and the radio, we somehow thought we were immune to this pandemic.

The people's response since our first case was recorded has ranged from disabling anxiety and fear, to denial about this grave illness ultimately leading to taking precautions to protect one’s self and family. After our very first case, people across the city showed admirable efforts in- flattening the curve by staying at home, keeping physical distance and protecting each other.

The busiest city in this country had fewer traffic jams, inactive restaurants and malls, empty marketplaces and religious centres that were closed off to the public. In the first few weeks since our index patient, screening had only been done in the capital city, mainly for internationally travelled persons under obligatory quarantine.

Roughly 50 tests were done per day and we had one of the poorest testing rates in the world hence we saw only a small rise in the number of confirmed cases despite our living standards. Eventually the strongest and oldest enemy, poverty, began knocking on our doors. Our community chose the inevitable- rather than breaking the cycle and continuing this hard fight, they picked up the pieces of their broken routines to avoid seeing their family die of hunger.

I am seeing my poor and vulnerable people less bothered by this terrorizing virus because they have that one problem, they are unable to solve - poverty and its accomplice called starvation.

Traditional holidays are a major part of Ethiopian culture. The Orthodox Easter was celebrated in mid-April and in my view, it might have been one of the reasons for the turning point of this 'back to normal ' attitude. Most of the cities' lockdown was eased for public transportation, marketplaces were busy again and slaughterhouse business skyrocketed.

Consequences of this are easy to comprehend. I keep wondering if I will end up as one of the soundless weapons the virus recruits to multiply in vulnerable communities like the one I live in. That thought, that relentless painful thought, of being an asymptomatic carrier scares me to the core.

I can't fathom how hard this unnerving time must have been for leaders all over the world. As a physician practicing medicine in a country where almost everything is scarce, with it seeming a luxury to have basic equipment to treat our patients, I relentlessly worry about this lifeless virus that has single-handedly taken the lives of hundreds of thousands and collapsed the livelihood of millions.

I work in the most crowded hospital where patients come from all over the country, weakened by both illness and poverty. Currently, available PPE seems to cover only a fraction of the hospital staff. Little ICU facilities, faulty oxygen cylinder gauges, and already scarce and overworked health workers who travel home in all directions of the city using overcrowded public transport makes things even worse.

As a low-income country, it’s not hard to imagine the repercussions of such a pandemic, especially seeing how it has shaken the world's most powerful countries with established health care systems and infrastructure.

I am a senior resident in the Anesthesiology and Critical Care in one of the biggest specialized university hospitals in my country's capital city. Things have changed significantly. The crowded operating department hallways are no more crowded with much of the waiting seats empty and wards have a scant number of admitted patients. We only undertake a handful of elective surgical cases and ICU beds are being freed.

All in preparation to deal with this tsunami when it hits. It’s been a couple of days since we passed the 100 mark, daily confirmed cases is rising in a slow manner due to limited testing capacity as other major cities in the country have started testing only possible suspect cases. The only silver lining is from the confirmed cases we are seeing more than half recovering from the illness. Regardless, that’s no guarantee! My thoughts are with Health care workers on every corner of the world fighting this pandemic and putting their life on the line. This too shall pass.

Sofoniyas Getaneh MD.

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Dec 26, 2020

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