As this viral menace continues its spread around the world, we are so touched by the resiliency and nimbleness of so many of you, our partners, who in just a few short weeks have had to pivot your entire programming to keep people safe and discern what is yours to do during these challenging times. Some organizations are appropriately freezing their programming and using the time to work on internal systems while others—like LifeNet International, a healthcare organization in sub-Saharan Africa—find themselves on the frontlines of the response. We are happy to share this update from Maggie Ehrenfried, LifeNet’s Managing Director of Development, about how they as a team have been navigating these turbulent times as they seek to adapt their regular programming to effectively respond to this still unfolding global pandemic.

“We have a word for what you do—you guherekeza. In Burundi, when friends leave your home it is the custom to walk with them until you’re certain they will reach their destination safely. That’s guherekeza.” ~ Burundian pastor

In the early years of LifeNet International, a Burundian pastor said this to us, and his words have stuck, powerfully informing how we conduct our work. We find his words take on new meaning now, as we are pivoting to respond to COVID-19 in the region. The ground beneath our feet is shifting as is the ground beneath our partners’ feet. And though these are not easy circumstances, we are committed to walking with our partners all the way and we believe that faithfulness, here, looks like adaptability, compassion, and grit, even in the midst of a pandemic.

The health facilities we work with in sub-Saharan Africa are true partners and friends. Our commitment is to heal the sick by walking with our partners as they journey along the road to high-quality healthcare, sustainable practices, and holistic Christian ministry. We believe every individual is made in the image of God and should have the opportunity to live a healthy and whole life. We are journeying alongside 220 faith-based health facilities in Burundi, Malawi, DRC, and Uganda, as they work to make this vision a reality.

“At LifeNet, we believe that every person, regardless of their social status, should receive the best quality care. As a Christian, I believe that this is a practical way to ‘preach the Good News to the poor.” – Nadège Kabagenzi, LifeNet Uganda Operations Manager

Pivoting to account for the spread of COVID-19 in sub-Saharan Africa has not and will not be simple; but it is essential as infectious diseases disproportionately affect the region, especially the poorest and most vulnerable who reside there. COVID-19 is projected to devastate this part of the world. With limited resources, tools, infrastructure, and community knowledge, our partner health facilities are in dire need of support to help protect and care for their neighbors well.

Images taken outside of the Buhoro Health Center in Burundi

As an organization, LifeNet is called and uniquely positioned to have an immediate and lasting impact, at this moment. Healthcare facilities that regularly treat some of the most disadvantaged patients in the world will soon be treating thousands of COVID-19 patients. We recognize the importance of continuing to work to improve the quality of care provided to mothers, babies, and children, as well as all patients who need primary care services. We are committed to this work and will continue to improve health outcomes for all patients. At the same time, we must ensure that health workers are well prepared to prevent, diagnose, and properly treat COVID-19. And we have a particular responsibility to ensure health facilities and their founding churches are able to share factual information with their communities and counteract the rising tide of fear-based misinformation.

In response to the virus within sub-Saharan Africa, we will:

  • Continue to train and coach 1500 health workers to provide high quality healthcare to all, including mothers, babies, children, and all those seeking primary care for the health needs
  • Train health workers to prevent, diagnose, and properly treat COVID-19 among the 5 million people in our partner facilities’ communities
  • Purchase and distribute handwashing stations to all health facilities, thanks to the generosity of Imago Dei Fund
  • Assemble and deliver Emergency COVID-19 Kits with personal protective equipment, infection prevention tools, and informational posters
  • Seek to procure and deliver masks and other personal protective equipment to each of the 1500 health workers with whom we partner (20,000 masks have already been flown into Burundi and are being delivered to health workers there.)
  • Perhaps most importantly: we will maintain open communication with health workers to help them process, problem-solve, share information, and assist in making sure they have all that they need to provide care with confidence and compassion

Right now, we are working with a developer to put all of our COVID-19 and primary care training on a mobile platform. We are working quickly to ensure that, even if we cannot physically stand with our partners, we can walk with them digitally.

We hope and pray our quick actions will help to resource and encourage our partners. Gloria Havyarimana, LifeNet’s Burundi Country Director, spoke for all of us when she said: “As we’ve delivered hand washing stations and other PPE supplies to our partners, there’s something so fulfilling about seeing them reminded that we will continue to guherekeza with them even through this COVID-19 pandemic. Our support has been a great encouragement to our partners and we have been encouraged by their commitment to care well for the vulnerable.”

Our current world is full of difficult-to-swallow news, devastating health statistics, and uncertainty. But God’s faithfulness is made visible all around us as well: in the newborn who is successfully resuscitated, in the mother cured of an infectious disease, and in the health facility staff caring so diligently for their neighbors with a renewed sense of purpose. Rooted in this hope, we guherekeza with our partner health facilities and will continue to do so until each one is equipped and able to provide life-saving care to all patients.

May we all walk together as an international community in this time, hoping greatly in our healer God and caring well for one another.

For more about LifeNet’s Multi-stage COVID-19 Response and a way to donate