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May 21, 2020

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Testing for fever (Photograph from Xinhua / ZUMA)
What African Nations are Teaching the West About Fighting the Coronavirus - via The New Yorker. "From the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, many countries in Africa pursued public-health measures more aggressively than the US and Europe did."
The truly happy person
    doesn’t follow wicked advice,
    doesn’t stand on the road of sinners,
    and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.
 Instead of doing those things,
    these persons love the Lord’s Instruction,
    and they recite God’s Instruction day and night!
 They are like a tree replanted by streams of water,
    which bears fruit at just the right time
    and whose leaves don’t fade.
        Whatever they do succeeds. - Psalm 1:1-3
When there is so much terrible news every day – about COVID-19, about the ineptitudes of the current U.S. government leadership and some state government leadership, the hurricane season starting early and likely to be more dangerous and deadly and, in the middle of a pandemic, dams breaking in Michigan - and on and on – it is nice to see some good news.
When it was clear that COVID-19 was becoming a global pandemic, I held two opposing feelings when thinking about it reaching the continent of Africa. I had a deep fear because of the ways that colonialism has taken many resources from the continent, leaving destruction, genocide and poverty in its wake, making it more difficult for countries to have the resources they need to face a pandemic. And yet, at the same time I knew that many African countries had faced Ebola and were able to contain it and even contain re-emerging outbreaks as time has gone on. Their experience with that epidemic might be a key to a similar success with COVID-19.
Most African countries have not seen COVID-19 arrive until much later than the rest of the world, so it is still early days. But the hopes I had for the ability to meet this challenge seem to be coming true. Countries that have successfully dealt with Ebola and have been working to treat and eradicate HIV, have put their learned practices and health care infrastructure to good use in combatting this crisis. The New Yorker article cites the many ways traveling to and through African countries is different than arriving in a European or US airport, and it points to why we are not seeing the rapid growth of cases in Africa as we have seen throughout the rest of the world.
Another thing that gives me hope in this story is knowing that some of the infrastructure and success in African countries in facing multiple epidemics is the partnership of worldwide partners. Aid from the US and other non-African countries helped build this infrastructure and support medical staff in Africa so that they could meet their health challenges up front. Even with the major countries in the world not doing a good job of working together now, those health care initiatives and structures have held on and done their job. With different leadership, we can again be partners in the world, sharing, learning from and supporting each other in crises. It can be different than what we see now.
I have little hope that our current US national leadership will learn lessons from these countries who have seen such success in their anti-epidemic practices, but we can still take lessons and hope from them in our local contexts. Vigilance matters. Consistency matters. Leadership matters. Education matters. If we do these things, we can help keep our communities healthy and safe as well.
For too long we have viewed African countries as places that receive our help rather than give us help. Many of our faith communities already have connections and partnerships in various places throughout Africa, a huge and wildly diverse continent. How can we better develop true partnerships – learning from the successes and the failures those partners have gone through? Faith communities in Africa have long faced the kinds of challenges we have right now. How can we listen and learn without continuing histories of patronization and appropriation?
Let us look at our partnerships and make sure they are true partnerships. Let us learn and not think we already have all the answers.
God – you created a whole world inside a whole universe. There is no possible way for any one of us to have all the answers. We need each other. But we also need to not see others as simply fonts of resources or information, but as friends, companions, partners for the journey. Help us journey together as we face corruption, war, disease, poverty, injustice, and ignorance. Help us be wise, help us listen, help us fail and try again. We have everything we need, even if we can’t see it yet. Thank you. Amen.
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