Is Eritrea Prepared for the Pandemic?

Radio Erena: 18 March 2020

As the world reels under the Coronavirus (Covid-19) panic, serious questions are earnestly raised about the preparedness of the Eritrean Health Care System for the Pandemic.

On 11 March, the Eritrean Ministry of Health (MoH) issued an overconfident statement on the status of Coronavirus in the country. Its opening paragraph said in a boastful tone: “Three months have elapsed since the outbreak of the Coronavirus (Covid-19) in China, in this period, the disease has spread to all the continents at an alarming rate. Over 100,000 people have been infected worldwide and over 4,000 infected patients have died so far (11 March). Not a single person has been infected in Eritrea to date. However, the country linked by land, air and sea with several countries affected by the disease.” (emphasis added). Then the same statement went on to give instructions to the citizens and the residents to cancel their travel plans on their own volition, and noted that travelers arriving from China, South Korea, Italy, and Iran will be quarantined.

The Ministry is still issuing regular guidelines and alerts to the citizens; but the question withstands: is the country genuinely prepared for the pandemic?

Let’s first examine a hard-hit country to view the responses to the disease. In France, where the writer of this article lives, and which has become known as “Confined France”, the President passed a decision to confine people to their houses for the next 15 days, as measure aimed at curbing the spread of the disease.
The measure is justifiable with regard to the increasing pace of disease spread. Up to present (figures may change while you read this article), France suffers from 7,730 confirmed cases, with 175 deaths and other 699 critical cases, according to Reuters Pandemic Indicator. France is one of the severest hit countries in a worldwide record of 204,441 confirmed cases with the ever-increasing number of 8,257 deaths.
The hospitals in France have reached the point of complete saturation; the authorities ordered the opening of the military hospitals to ease the pressure on hospitals. If this is the case in a country with health-care safety net, how would the situation be in our country?

For the country to be clean from the virus until now is not a government achievement. Thanks to the twenty-year old movement restrictions within the country and to external destinations. Not so many planes land in Asmara Airport, especially from China and other infected countries, assuredly, none from Iran. The borders have been closed with both Sudan and Ethiopia and Djibouti for a long time. This must explain the status que of disease in country up to date.

The Ministry of Health takes credit for its effort to instruct the citizens on how to be safe from the virus attack. But, are there enough facilities to face any spread of the disease, considering the illiteracy of the population, particularly in the countryside? Whatever effort the MoH exerts on this respect, the government undo by first denying the possibility of spread of the disease and, foremost, by keeping thousands of youth in Sawa camp and the different colleges in the country in dire situations. The worst is the precarious conditions of prisons in the capital: Karsheli, Track B, Tsetserat and Hazhaz prisons all the way to the infamous Mitir prison in the northeast and Adi Quala in the south. Those who are languishing in these forgotten cells are prone to the slightest germ or virus attack.
To sum, the real test lurking ahead is not only to keep the country clean from the pandemic, but rather to be prepared for the worst possibilities. What we have, so far, in Eritrea is the catastrophic government policies which really endanger the very lives of the people.

Fathi Osman