“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 network held its first webinar on Sept. 16, which was 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,” said Judith Siambe Opiyo, a program officer for Kenya Mennonite Church’s Centre for Peace and Nationhood (CPN) and a webinar presenter.
In March, everything changed for the centre’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 the centre pivoted to infection prevention, installing 50 handwashing stations in Mathare Village (approximately one station for 20 households) and teaching the community 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,” reported Siambe Opiyo.
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 by 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,” Siambe Opiyo said.
Protecting the patients
“The hospital must lead,” said Dr. Luis C. Torrellas Ruíz, a specialist in internal medicine with Sistema de Salud Menonita, 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 initially low number of cases enabled the network to prepare its staff and systems with 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,” said 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,” he said.
Daily prayers at the hospital provide support as the network fulfils its mission to “serve with love of Christ to provide integrated and excellent health in [an] environment of human warmth without discrimination against anyone.”
The Global Anabaptist Health Network’s next webinar is Nov. 18, featuring Dr. Virgo Handojo on the 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,” said Dr. Virgo Handojo, a webinar participant.
CPN promoter Rosneka Mulalyah, right, hands over a hand-washing station to Paul Karuiki and Mike Musyoki in Mathare 3B community, Kenya. (Centre for Peace and Nationhood photo)