Eritrea Fights COVID-19: What is the 411?

The Eritrea Fights COVID-19 (EFC) website has been shared throughout the online community widely. The project seems to be promoted by the Council of Eritrean Americans and the Eritrean community in Washington, D.C. The project has reportedly raised over $2,700,000 and potentially more given the live pledges on social media platforms like Facebook.

EFC’s stated purpose is to “support the Ministry of Health in Eritrea engage in lifesaving work to prevent, detect, and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.” The Ministry of Health (MoH) is the frontline organization for dealing with health issues in Eritrea, and its slogan is “Health for All.”

What do healthcare systems typically need to fight COVID-19?

The key to fighting COVID-19 is trained doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals as well as key equipment. Key equipment includes personal protective equipment such as face shields, masks, gloves, protective gowns, and for the most severe cases, respirators. Most developing countries have had difficulty acquiring such equipment during the crisis. To alleviate this issue, some countries with early success have opened up and shared donations of equipment intending to help; however, in some cases, this equipment has unfortunately been found defective.

Why did Eritrea reject medical aid shipments from China?

We could not verifiably determine whether Eritrea had rejected medical aid shipments from China. We could only determine a single source indicating that a shipment was not received in Asmara. In the past however, we have found that Eritrea has not rejected aid as a rule. Instead, it seems that Eritrea accepts aid (emergency or otherwise) when it is in partnership with the sending group – thereby reducing the risk of dumping. Recently however, it seems that several “rich” countries have either rejected or returned as “faulty” some medical aid from China. These countries include, The Netherlands, Spain, Czech Republic, and Turkey (amongst others).

Is the MoH capable of providing effective care?

Since Independence, Eritrea has graduated hundreds of medical doctors and thousands of nurses. The efforts of these professionals will need to be combined with reliable equipment to save lives. In 2000, the United Nations (UN) established the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), of which three (at a high level) are related to health (Goals 4, 5, and 6). According to the UN Development Program’s (UNDP) report, Eritrea was able to achieve aspects of Goals 4 and 5 and made important progress towards Goal 6. In particular, Eritrea was able to reduce the incidence of malaria epidemics as well as HIV/AIDS.

The Global Fund (to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria) finances programs in Eritrea and a report by the Office of the Inspector General found certain MoH practice “remarkable initiative(s) not commonly seen in Global Fund-supported programmes” and noted, “resources have been used to strengthen national systems.” The report also found “that the MOH has agreed to strengthen financial controls by ensuring adherence to established procedures” as the “report is well structured, balanced, frank and quite objective.”

Based on these reports by the UNDP and The Global Fund, it seems that the MoH has demonstrated effective and innovative use of funds provided to achieve its health-related goals. Will the millions raised by the Eritrean Diaspora through the effort be used effectively? Based on a quick review of past work with global healthcare organizations – it seems likely. We certainly hope that Eritrea’s story will include a quick and decisive end to COVID-19.

What has MoH done so far to prepare for COVID-19?

Information and guidance are being disseminated to people in all regions by experts and through media outlets in all nine Eritrean languages and English. Health workers have been trained on COVID-19 prevention and contact tracing. In addition, a rapid responders team has been established.

A hospital has been designated for confirmed COVID-19 patients. The hospital is equipped with medical doctors, intensive care nurses, anesthetists, and other related staff in addition to the necessary medical equipment and infection prevention materials. The virus that causes COVID-19 is designated severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The National Health Laboratory is prepared with real-time PCR SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic reagents, and laboratory technicians have received training on the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2.

Are cities outside of Asmara equipped to fight COVID-19?

At the time of Eritrea’s liberation, 40% of the population had access to healthcare within a 10-kilometer radius. Now, 75% of Eritrea’s population has access to healthcare within a 10-kilometer range, and 60% of the population lives within 5 kilometers of a health facility. For example, in Hagaz, a sub-zone in the Anseba region, there are six health facilities with a total of 70 health professionals, including physicians, optometric and laboratory technicians, midwives, pharmacists, and nurses. Additionally, a new solar power supply has been installed to mitigate the problem of electric supply. All of the hospitals in the sub-zone have their own solar energy supply, allowing the hospitals to operate without any difficulty.