Go into the community

Anabaptist health network responds to COVID-19

“We are bound together as a community not only through this global pandemic, but through our faith,” says Rick Stiffney, steering committee member of the Global Anabaptist Health Network.

The Global Anabaptist Health Network held its first webinar 16 September 2020 attended by two dozen Anabaptist-related health professionals from Asia, Africa, North America and the Caribbean.

Mothers in Mathare

“Change is a process; it is important to give people a chance to embrace it,” says Judith Siambe Opiyo, a program officer for Kenya Mennonite Church – Centre for Peace and Nationhood (CPN) and webinar presenter.

In March, everything changed for CPN’s maternal child health and nutrition program in the Mathare slums of Nairobi, Kenya, when the government announced Kenya’s first COVID-19 case.

Care group activities halted and CPN pivoted to infection prevention.

CPN installed 50 handwashing stations in Mathare Village (approximately 1 station for 20 households) and engaged the community to learn how to use and care for them.

“The community had resistance [to severity of the virus], but through CPN’s persistent work with them, people were able to embrace the health recommendations,” says Judith Siambe Opiyo.

CPN promoter Rosneka Mulalyah, Paul Karuiki, Mike Musyoki in Mathare, Kenya.
CPN promoter Rosneka Mulalyah hands over a hand-washing station to Paul Karuiki and Mike Musyoki in Mathare 3B community, Kenya.
Photos: supplied by CPN

To date there are few reported COVID-19 deaths in Mathare Village despite the difficulty of isolation due to large, crowded households and dependence on daily wage earners in the marketplace.

The maternal and child health care activities have been maintained through household visits, and the handwashing stations will serve the hygiene needs of the community over the long-term.

“Doing these interventions will go a long way in preventing other water-washed diseases like cholera and diarrhea,” says Judith Siambe Opiyo.

Protecting the patients

“The hospital must lead,” says Dr. Luis C. Torrellas Ruíz, a specialist in internal medicine with Sistema de Salud Menonita (SSM – a Mennonite hospital network in Puerto Rico) and a member of the government task force addressing COVID-19 on the island. “Don’t stay in the hospital waiting for patients. Go into the community and provide education.”

Puerto Rico’s initial low case numbers enabled SSM to prepare its staff and systems with the protective equipment and education about the virus. To date, there have been no hospital-acquired infections among staff and faculty.

“Everyone has to protect themselves and take proper measures,” says Luis Torrellas Ruíz.

The endless emergency takes an emotional toll on doctors and nurses working with this highly contagious, largely untreatable virus. “Be patient. Keep God on your side, and keep up hope,” says Luis Torrellas Ruíz.

Daily prayers at the hospital provide support as SSM fulfills its mission to “serve with love of Christ to provide integrated and excellent health in environment of human warmth without discrimination against anyone.”

GAHN’s next webinar is 18 November 2020 featuring Dr Virgo Handojo on implications of spirituality for dealing with COVID-19, Dr Chiang-Liang Wu on the ministry of Mennonite Christian Hospital in Hualien, Taiwan, and Paul Shetler Fast on Mennonite Central Committee’s health programming.

“Distance is no longer an obstacle to build connection with people that have common values and faith in sharing Christ's love in this world,” says Dr. Virgo Handojo, a webinar participant.

—Mennonite World Conference release


Click here to register for the 18 November 2020 event

Click here for more information on GAHN.

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