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Covid-19

Vaccine Rollout in Africa

By Covid-19

The Covid-19 vaccine drive is well underway in Africa but a third wave threatens. At the time of writing, eight countries have seen abrupt rises in case numbers and the World Health Organisation reports of dwindling vaccine supplies.

Supply crunch
African countries relying on vaccines from the UN-backed Covax programme and the Serum Institute of India are in danger of being left behind as vaccines made in India are diverted for domestic use. Problems getting hold of enough vaccine doses means many African countries are struggling to protect their most vulnerable populations. The Guardian recently reported that about 50 million doses had been received in Africa, of which 31 million doses had been administered across 50 countries. That does not sound too bad until you realise the combined population of those countries is more than a billion. Uganda received only a third of the vaccines expected from Covax despite recording a 131% week-on-week rise in early June. Such shortages are almost universal. Tanzania, Burundi, Chad and Eritrea are yet to start any vaccinations.

Under-reporting
Adding to this is an acknowledgment that case numbers are drastically under-reported across the continent. Unless testing is improved, fears are growing that Africa could suffer similarly to India, or perhaps even worse. India’s healthcare system is considered more robust than those in sub-Saharan Africa.

Slow rollout
Even when vaccines are available, getting them to priority groups is frequently disrupted by funding shortfalls, too few healthcare professionals and vaccine hesitancy from misinformation spread on social media. Reaching people in remote regions or areas of political instability was never going to be easy or quick.

Insufficient funds
Most African countries had funding to cover the cost of the first batch of vaccines but funding shortfalls are a growing problem. As the number of people needing to be reached rises and areas to be covered are located further away from major cities, costs are rising.

Vaccine hesitancy
Myths and misinformation have spread fast on social media globally and Africa is no exception. Misleading claims on social media have led to vaccine hesitancy and mistrust of the vaccination programme.

Disruptions to essential health services
The pandemic has seriously disrupted essential health and immunisation services across Africa. Professionals involved in immunisation programmes for diseases such as measles have been reallocated to deal with Covid-19 risking new outbreaks. Fear of contracting the virus at a local clinic or hospital has led to lower numbers of patients seeking care for other conditions.

Economic impacts
Analysis by the US Pew Research Center found that the recession caused by Covid has pushed 131 million people into poverty across the world. Sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia accounted for most of the increase, reversing years of progress.

About 494 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, out of a total population of 1.14 billion, were expected to be living in poverty before the pandemic in 2020. That total has risen by 40 million, the Pew analysis estimated. While analysts predict an economic recovery after the pandemic, years of economic growth have been undone, disproportionately affecting the poorest.

What the World Health Organisation say
“WHO has been at the centre of the vaccine rollout in Africa, and has supported African countries since the beginning of pandemic,” says Dr Richard Mihigo, WHO Africa’s Immunization and Vaccines Development Programme Coordinator. “We are working to coordinate all efforts, giving policy and technical guidance and tailored support to African countries.”

The African Paradox

By Covid-19, Kenya

Official statistics record that over 100,000 have now died of Covid-19 in Africa. Each one of those death is a tragedy. 100,000 is a lot of people. But the death toll is lower than many predicted when the first cases appeared in Egypt. So what is going on?

Firstly, this figure almost certainly under-reports the real numbers. Post-mortem testing at a university hospital morgue in Zambia published in the British Medical Journal for example showed that one in five were infected. Most die before reaching hospital without being tested. Secondly, the idea that Africa has been spared rings hollow in hotspots like Mozambique, Eswatini and Malawi where hospitals are struggling.

Unproven and dubious theories abound about the so called ‘African paradox’: vitamin D from sunlight giving extra protection or higher general exposure to disease due to poverty building stronger immune systems. What is true is Africa’s population is young. This is likely to be helping and many African countries already have hard won experience dealing with epidemics like Ebola and HIV.

Paradox or not, our world is interconnected. Covid-19 in Africa is bad for the whole world.

As for me and my family, not all is well. According to the doctor we all caught a bad common cold. We went down to self-induced bed rest believing the doctor. Soon, my husband, who is diabetic, became seriously ill and was hospitalised. Due to difficulty in breathing and other complications he was tested for Covid-19 and put on oxygen. The results came out and were positive.

He was taken to the isolation centre in a very traumatic process for all of us. I broke down openly because of his underlying condition and due to the fact that we can’t visit him. In the process of treatment, his blood pressure went high and they are now managing it. I and my other family members are on self-home care as advised. Kindly, we need your prayers during such low moments.

Revd Elizabeth CheruiyotSt Paul’s University, Kapsabet, Kenya

Please pray

Give thanks that the spread of Covid-19 appears to be lower in Africa with fewer cases and deaths than many predicted. Pray that Revd Elizabeth’s husband, Bethuel, recovers quickly.

Restrictions to stop the spread of Covid-19 are in place across much of Africa but with little government help for the millions who are losing earnings. Pray that local economies would quickly recover and for areas like Cabo Delgardo in northern Mozambique where extremists are taking advantage of the disruption to further their agendas.

Online Church Services in Kenyan College

By Covid-19, Kenya

Revd Abraham Koech is Chaplain at Koitaleel Somoei University College in Kenya. He tells us how APF inspired him to set up online services during Kenya’s Covid-19 lockdown.

Koitaleel Smoei University College (KSUC) is part of the University of Nairobi. KSUC has two campuses, one at Mosoriot and another under construction at Nandi Hills, Kenya. The main courses offered include Education, Commerce and Business Administration among others. We currently have over 300 students and believe the student population will keep on going up every year. Hopefully we will soon receive a charter from the Kenyan government meaning the college can run its programs independently.

“I have been the chaplain at KSUC since December 2019 and I enjoy serving the Lord here. My contract has been renewed and the work designation has changed slightly to Lecturer/Chaplain. It is my prayer that through my ministry here many will come to the saving knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“I would like to thank APF so much for inspiring me to begin online church services at KSUC. The inspiration came from an APF online gathering in July 2020 which I attended. We had a wonderful time of fellowship and prayers with other APF partners from across Africa through Zoom. I had never taken seriously the importance of online meetings before. After the meeting I said, “Why should we not begin online Church services at the university using Zoom? If we can have a meeting online, why not Church online.” Our students and staff had been at home since March, due to the pandemic so reaching them with God’s word online became crucial. I shared the idea with a number of people at the university and they supported it. We began the services without delay.

“The university IT officers were willing to help me with facilitating the online services and helped students and staff get a web link and login to the services in good time. Many students would join the services online along with most of their parents and siblings from different parts of the country and everyone actively participated. The university staff also joined the services.

“The link to join the services was sent through the students and staff WhatsApp groups. The services always lasted one hour every Sunday and included praise and worship, prayer, hymns, testimonies, encouragements, scripture readings, a sermon, and an offering. God gave me the grace to preach in these services.

“I am so grateful to God for APF as without the inspiration from the APF Zoom meetings I wouldn’t have started Sunday services at KSUC. I am also so thankful to the university for supporting this ministry.

“I believe that online platforms have a great role in expanding God’s kingdom in Africa and in the wider world now and in the future. I pray that pastors will seize the opportunity and start spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ in this way. In Africa today, a big number of people have mobile phones with access to the internet. Reaching them online has become easy. Through the internet a local church pastor is connected not only to his local area but to the entire world. Let’s take up this challenge today in obedience to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ (Mathew 28:19-20).”

Please pray

Give thanks for the African partners who have been able to network together online during 2020.

Pray for new initiatives that have arisen from online gatherings including Lawson’s farming project in Zambia, the partnership with Eaglelite Associates in Uganda and Abraham’s online church ministry in Kenya.

Please pray for those African partners who have not been able to use Zoom, asking that they continue to ‘feel’ connected and be supported.

As face to face contact restarts and APF personnel return to Africa in 2021, pray especially for Dave Stedman as he prepares to visit Kenya and Uganda in January and February.

The View from Tanzania

By Covid-19, Tanzania

Unlike most African countries, the Tanzanian government did not announce a strict lockdown. Churches, mosques, and other religious buildings have remained open for worshippers, although schools, sports and other gatherings deemed unnecessary were closed until June. From Karagwe, a remote rural town in Kagera Region in the far north-west corner of Tanzania, Pastor Heavenlight Luoga shares his reflections on what God has been reminding him of during the crisis.

“This pandemic teaches us how God is in control of this wonderful and fragile world. During the crisis, there are both dangers and opportunities. Dangers because thousands and thousands of people have been infected and died. Also, there is the related economic crisis with people losing their jobs.

“Opportunities have come because many people are turning to God. We have seen, all over the East African countries, people crying and praying to God because of Covid-19. It is striking the world and all of us realise we are most certainly not in control, ‘we’ meaning humanity as a whole. The fragility of life is emphasised, the limitations of knowledge become plain and human capacity is challenged.
People here in Karagwe were in fear concerning the limitations of local health infrastructure. Our highly social lifestyle and overcrowded homes all created a huge fear of the virus. Many expected to see uncountable dead bodies on the streets. Thank God this has not yet come about in Tanzania. Our government recently announced that the situation here is not too bad. The number of people affected in hospitals is coming down. Our government prepared 1,000 beds at Saba Saba Exhibition Ground, but today all of them have been removed.

“We see wealthy countries investing millions of dollars for security purposes, on health insurance and social safety nets, but still many people in those countries are dying from coronavirus.

“It is a reminder to us that God is in control of the world and he can do whatever he wants to do, without any resistance. In response, we start looking up. As Deuteronomy 32:39 says:

‘Look now; I myself am he!
There is no other god but me!
I am the one who kills and gives life;
I am the one who wounds and heals;
no one can be rescued from my powerful hand!'”

Lockdown, locust and landslide in Kenya

By Covid-19, Kenya

Western Kenya has faced a triple-hit in recent months. Besides the significant impacts of the lockdown on jobs, incomes and livelihoods, the area has been badly affected by locust swarms and landslides. Revd Shadrack Koma from the AIC North Rift Convention in Western Kenya shares his thoughts on the situation.

“In such time of suffering and adversity it is futile to imagine there is no God. Even in the darkest times God is present with us. There is no time when God is absent. According to Job 36, he is in control of the entire universe. He knows the weather patterns and what is happening in the world. Nothing happens without him knowing. God sometimes allows such events like the lockdown, locusts and the landslides to take place to demonstrate his sovereignty but amidst such events, God remains the creator and the sustainer of the universe. God is everywhere, even in the lockdown, locusts and landslides.

In this time, I see that God is teaching humanity about humility. He is preparing us for a greater blessing to come but for now, we have to endure this. God is teaching the church that there is value in suffering. Through suffering the church is strengthened. It is a wakeup call that adorns the church with the garment of glory (Romans 8:18). Suffering prepares the church for mission. It is important to note that God does allow suffering, pain and even death if they best serve his purposes but the suffering is for a short time. The pain that has been caused by the lockdown, locusts and landslides is for a short time compared to God’s eternity.

“This time of lockdown, locust and landslides can be our greatest motivation for spiritual growth or a deadly means of discouragement. The difference depends on our understanding of God’s purpose for allowing it to happen. We must remember that God is with us through these events. He is teaching humanity about humility. What God teaching the church now will help us serve him more diligently in the world as the threat of Covid-19 passes.”

Faith in action in Rwanda

By Covid-19, Rwanda

In Rwanda, heavy rain and landslides have made life even more challenging for rural communities already struggling through one of Africa’s stricter Covid-19 lockdowns. Revd Mutagoma Japhet from the small rural Eglise Evangélique de la Bonne Volonté au Rwanda (EEBVR) network of churches shares his experience of helping communities affected by both lockdown and landslide.

“The Covid-19 pandemic lockdown has been a real challenge here in Rwanda. People have been suffering from hunger, the failure of their businesses and the loss of their jobs. Already we were seeing increasing malnutrition especially in younger children. This disastrous torrent has only worsened the situation.

“The Bible says, “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). This verse reminds us that God remains faithful even in tough periods.

“This is our experience. With funding from APF, we donated significant grants that helped our communities fight against Covid-19. We provide soap and hygiene stations in four different communities.

“Using the bicycles we received from APF in 2018, we transported clean water from long distances to people living with disabilities during the lockdown.

“Following the flooding, we led displaced people to safety, sheltering them in churches and schools. We provided basic items like cooking pans, blankets, food and clothing. Overall, we supported 73 displaced families in two camps in Musanze District with 200 kg of maize, and also provided fruit and toys for 63 children. But the effects of the landslides have made worse the devastating impacts of the lockdown in one of the poorest parts of Rwanda where people live hand-to-mouth and face extremes of hunger and poverty.

“After receiving food for her children, one parent, who had lost her home to flooding, said she now understood that you cannot separate your faith from your deeds. One comes out from the other like the crops from the soil.”

Please pray

For marginalised communities in DRC, Rwanda, and Uganda that have seen crops, property and goods destroyed by torrential rain, floods and landslips

Give thanks for the local responses being initiated by APF partners that have received Covid-19 Relief Fund grants, especially Pastor Japhet Mutagoma, Revd Charles Munyamahoro and Revd Emmanuel Gatera, all in Rwanda

As the lockdown begins to ease in Rwanda, pray for life to normalise with churches being able to gather safely, training conferences resuming before long and communities to remember the help they received from Christian neighbours

For Pastor Victor, the new Legal Representative of Eglise Evangélique de la Bonne Volonté au Rwanda, as he combines teaching, ministry and academic study

Joy and generosity in Uganda

By Covid-19, Uganda

Revd Francis Esomu is principal of Atirir Bible School in rural Teso Region, east Uganda. His theological reflection on the impact of the coronavirus lockdown highlights how joy and generosity can overcome disaster.

Here in Uganda we have been overwhelmed by the chaos and difficulties caused by the desert locusts that invaded most parts of Teso, Karamoja, Acholi and Lango Regions. The locust destroys crops and green vegetation once it lands in the area.

As if that is not enough, Covid-19 has spread all over the world with breath-taking speed. It is stealing lives, bankrupting businesses, plunging economies into chaos, shuttering churches, distancing people, hurting people. It has taken our routines and has changed many of our most cherished patterns of life. It has presented a challenge unlike any we have seen in our lifetimes. These things create fear among the people here in Uganda. They are wondering where is God in this situation? What is he telling us from his word?

As a pastor and leader here in Teso Region, I have told them that although Covid-19 is such a deadly and contagious disease that has claimed many lives, God is in control of everything that happens to his people. It is God’s reminder to me and everyone else that we do not control our lives and if anyone feels they are in control of everything they are denying that God is all knowing and powerful. We completely depend on God.
Jesus Christ knew that he was completely dependent on his Father as seen in Matthew 26:39: “Our Lord Jesus Christ cried and said, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’”

In this time of uncertainty, two sides of the coin come into play. Sometimes we feel God should fix our afflictions as soon as possible. Then again, not as we will, but as God wills. Our Lord faced the same, but he realised the decision was not his. It belonged to his Father in heaven. Let God’s will be done!

The present circumstance is an opportunity for God to manifest the life of Christ in us. We need not rely on ourselves but on God who brings life out of death. The more we realise our dependence on God, the more we are changed into the image of his Son, Jesus.

A similar account is recorded by Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:1-2 about some challenges that a newly planted church in Philippi faced:

“And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”

The Macedonian believers, despite their extreme poverty, found they were able to give out of the joy they found in the grace of God. Amidst affliction, their joy in the grace of the Lord turned their poverty into a wealth of generosity.

As we see many in our community in huge need, giving is the only thing we can do in this time of uncertainty, locusts and lockdown.

Please pray

Giving thanks that although the lockdown restrictions have exacerbated poverty in Uganda, to date there have been no Covid-19 fatalities and relatively few confirmed cases

Atirir Bible School offers Certificate level theological education to rural pastors from Baptist and other denominations. We pray for that Atirir Bible School becomes a regional centre for leadership development

For Francis as he combines many responsibilities and travels to other regions, including Kamuli and Karamoja, to train pastors and leaders