I have pinched myself a few times this last week as we read the news of the Corona virus pandemic striking the world by storm. I keep hoping that I will wake up. Is this really happening? How is it possible that countries have closed their borders and people are repatriating home? It seemed at first like a disease that was only affecting China, and now the whole world is trembling. Even the Congolese border is now closed, as are many borders around us.. It feels like the world is riding some giant wave of unknown magnitude, with so many unknowns. The lives of so many people has changed overnight and we are scrambling to make our own medical masks! Even our jobs and livelihoods look less certain these days. These are crazy times.
This new pandemic has given me pause to look back on the last 1.5 years. We have been living through an Ebola epidemic here in DRC for the last 1.5 years. This epidemic has drastically changed our lives and caused us to mitigate risk. I (Lindsey) chose not to provide patient care so as to reduce the risk of exposure of our son. We were vaccinated against this terrible disease. We don’t shake hands. I still haven’t shaken hands with anyone for 8 months since coming back. We don’t touch patients with ungloved hands anymore. Sometimes we have had to delay life-saving care due to the need to test patients. We have practiced social distancing and avoided large markets and public areas for weeks on end. We spend more time at home and less time traveling. Our daily lives have changed in significant ways.
Ebola is not a forgiving disease – it is a deadly one if not detected and treated early. We have learned that vaccines and novel therapies are game changers for the prevention and treatment of Ebola. At long last, Ebola appears to be coming to a close. In just 2 more weeks with no further cases and they can declare the epidemic is over. It has been a long haul to get to this point and we are so grateful!
Some of the same principles we have learned from living through an Ebola epidemic may apply to treating corona virus. Even some of the drug therapies may be similar. Let’s hope that we can properly put on/take personal protective equipment, wear N95 masks, dispose of waste properly, self-quarantine, wash our hands in bleach multiple times a day, and identify patients with this disease early.
I am thankful in a strange way for everything we have learned. Probably the most aggressive thing we can do is test/isolate/trace and isolate contacts. We need to equip healthcare workers to do their jobs safely to protect their lives and the lives of others. Hospitals need to treat only essential conditions to avoid exposing people to the virus. Healthcare providers need to cohort care to limit exposures.
We need to educate the general population from ALL angles on why it is important to limit contacts. People need to limit their movement and interactions and consider the essentials of life. On a community level in Africa this does not mean staying in one’s often very small house 24/7, but avoiding large groups. Here we need to consider things like food security and the possibility that goods could become scarce. For this reason we are planting more of the fields around us and considering how we can anticipate the needs of others.
Now life is back to basics. Many parents need to school their kids at home and find new activities together. This brings challenges, but also rewards. We are forced to slow down our frenetic life….unless, of course, you are in healthcare! If you are working in healthcare your life just got infinitely more complicated and risky, and may separate you from family temporarily.
We need to pray for those in healthcare and public service who care for others. We need courage for the tasks ahead of us. We need a way to surrender our worries to God, lest they overwhelm us. He is faithful and He hears our prayers and I believe we will see His intervention.
Meanwhile, let’s take care of our mental health-getting outside to appreciate nature. Let’s get enough physical exercise. Let’s check-in with the needs of others, help a neighbor. And, if possible, let’s limit our news intake as hard as that is.