An Open Letter to the Government of Eritrea On the spread of COVID-19

Source: Eritrea Digest

Date: March 22nd, 2020
Press Release No. 1.


Members of the Eritrean Healthcare Professionals Network (EHPN) are writing to inform you of great concern for the pandemic spread of COVID-19 in Eritrea. We are a group of Eritrean healthcare professionals in the diaspora that advocate and promote the health and wellbeing of Eritreans globally. We are writing with the utmost urgency to inform you as well as the people in Eritrea of the need for action now to prevent what could be a catastrophic loss.

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) made the assessment that Corona Virus Disease 19 (COVID-19) triggered by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) COV-2 is characterized as a pandemic. This disease, for which there is currently no therapy and vaccination, can take a serious course of disease in young and old people and can even lead to death. Since the virus can be spread by inhalation through droplet infection, it is necessary to follow stringent hygiene measures (regular and intensive hand washing with soap) as well as avoiding social contacts. This open letter calls on the Government of Eritrea to immediately implement the guidelines and advisory from the WHO and CDC on preventing further spread and deaths due to this highly contagious virus.

The worldwide epidemiological spread of the virus can be tracked daily using data from the John-Hopkins University. It is certain that there is a very high number of unreported cases. The progress of the pandemic so far shows that even countries with good to excellent medical care systems have difficulties in protecting their population and providing them with adequate medical care. The first cases of the disease have been reported on the African continent. As of March 22, 2020, according to the WHO African region, 1117 cases of COVID-19 have been identified in Africa so far with 33 confirmed deaths and 84 recoveries. The number of cases are rapidly increasing. According to the Eritrean Minister of Information the first Eritrean case of COVID-19 has been identified. Per Minister Yemane Gebremeskel’s Twitter post on March 21st ,“The Ministry of Health announced this evening the first confirmed case of a coronavirus patient who arrived at Asmara International Airport from Norway with Fly Dubai at 7:00 am this morning. The 39-year old patient is an Eritrean national with permanent residence in Norway”. This information is extremely concerning.

Due to lack of basic prerequisites for implementing hygiene measures, the challenge of combating the expected pandemic in Eritrea is huge. There is a shortage of water, disinfectants, laboratories that carry out diagnostic tests and medical professionals, including nursing and technical staff. There is also a lack of functioning intensive care units with adequate ventilation equipment needed to properly treat patients. The reality is that many Eritreans will not be able to seek and obtain medical treatment in their homeland or neighboring countries. In short, the Eritrean health system is not adequately prepared for a COVID-19 pandemic.

It is the responsibility and duty of the Eritrean government to inform the population about this pandemic and to take preventive measures to protect them. These measures must especially protect those people who are at higher risk of becoming infected. The government has a duty to educate the public that some population groups are more vulnerable and at considerably higher risk of contracting COVID-19, e.g. elderly or citizens with chronic diseases. In addition, the government must ensure that COVID-19 is not transmitted from person to person through avoidable circumstances, such as public gatherings or when using shared accommodations.

Many Eritrean prisoners who are kept in official and unofficial prisons under inhumane conditions are at high risk of contracting the virus. Many are housed in cramped, overcrowded rooms. Hygienic measures and medical care are not up to critical care standards, therefore increasing a wave of COVID-19 disease in Eritrean prisons would be a disaster that could then infiltrate the whole general population.

The young Eritrean students, who are sent to Sawa to complete the 12th grade, also belong to the high-risk group. The overcrowded living quarters promote further rapid spread of the virus in both Sawa and the surrounding area.

As an organization dedicated to the health and well-being of all Eritreans, EHPN calls on the Government of Eritrea, the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Justice in particular, to take measures which prioritize public health and well-being of all Eritreans. We have particular concern for those who are at high risk: prisoners and high school students in Sawa, as well as all that have underlying health conditions.

The Eritrean Ministry of Health has always been a frontline fighter and in such a time of this, we highly encourage to take a leap of preparedness for prevention to healthcare providers and all Eritrean citizens. Again, we strongly urge the Ministry of health to voice an alarming awareness
of prevention to the public.

As health professionals, we feel it is our obligation and duty to alert and inform you of the current status of the pandemic that has taken place and warn of the potential danger it could cause in Eritrea.

Eritrean Healthcare Professionals Network (EHPN)


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