Catholic San Francisco, May 21, 2020
Priest, nurse fortify Nigerian villagers against lockdown hunger, CHRISTINA GRAY CATHOLIC SAN FRANCISCO
The pair and the Bay Area donors who support their mission are making these works and others possible, such as improving access to medical
care at a local Catholic hospital, drilling wells for safe drinking water and providing scholarships to local women who want to train as nurses.
“Father Ed,” as Testani calls him, included photos in his email dispatches from Abakaliki that showed volunteers separating bulk provisions into smaller bags for distribution. Recipients sat spaced a good distance from one another in a receiving area.
Over 120 village households have thus far received rice, beans, flour, seasoning cubes and soap to sustain them, he reported.
In mid-April, a few weeks after Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari ordered a national lockdown to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
News reports showed looting of food trucks in Lagos, Nigeria’s largest city after the government promised food assistance that he said did not arrive. Gangs soon moved in to take advantage of the chaos by going house-to-house to rob people as whole neighborhoods armed themselves with home-made weapons to defend themselves.
“The situation here in Ebonyi State has not gotten bad as that of Lagos, but it is gradually simmering,” Father Inyanwachi said.
On March 24, Ebonyi State, like all of Nigeria’s 36 states, closed its borders to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
At that time the West African country reported 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19. That was less than a month after the first confirmed case was announced Feb. 27. Two months later, on May 11, the World Health Organization reported 4,399 positive cases and 143 deaths in Nigeria.
In a country with a population of almost 200 million people, those numbers seem to reflect relative success in Africa’s most populous country.
There is a growing hotspot in the city of Kano in northern Nigeria even as lockdown restrictions begin to lift.
Father Inyanwachi considers the village “blessed” without a single identified positive case of the virus.
“I say ‘an identified positive case’ because we have almost no testing going on, not only in the village but in the entire Ebonyi State,” he added.
As in other places around the world, Nigeria shows that efforts to contain the virus have compounded pre-existing problems that disproportionately impact the poor.
In Abakaliki, said Testani, the virus peaked at the end of the dry season when home larders of yams and cassava and other local crops are naturally in low supply. Many farmers had just planted their spring crops.
The border closure blocked farm trucks from nearby states from selling their products at the local open market, creating food shortages. The open market is the only affordable option for villagers who can buy or barter to supplement what they might grow themselves.
Shortages have led to price increases far outside the means of most villagers, said Father Inyanwachi.
“Only a few are able to make regular purchases now due to the high cost, and so many families eat only one meal a day,” he said.
Water access is also an issue, said Testani. Most homes in Ebonyi State lack running water, making handwashing for disease prevention nearly
“With them not having any clean water on any average day, we panicked,” she said.
Even those who might be able to afford to buy food at the open market could not gain entrance without washed hands.
Testani, who spent 3 weeks in Abakaliki in 2016, learned that a combination of poverty, poor nutrition, native superstitions and inadequate
health care causes suffering, illness and an early death for villagers of all ages.
She said she believes the villagers are taking the virus restrictions “very seriously,” many of them having lived through the West African Ebola crisis that killed more than 11,000 people before it ended in 2016.
There have been some overdoses of anti-malarial medication, she said. In early April, President Donald Trump promoted the experimental use of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment despite limited information on its efficacy and side effects.
Father Inyanwachi said that morning Mass is a “very important part of our lives here.” For many villagers, being away from Mass has been the
“Some of them come and hang out outside the church while I celebrate Mass inside,” he said.
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