Hope for the hopeless?

By Dr Anne Merriman MBE

Dr Anne Merriman MBE, founder of Hospice Africa, reflects on the possible impact of Covid-19 on her charity’s work in Uganda.
The sun rises in glory each morning over Lake Victoria. The birds start their dawn chorus, now louder than ever with no sounds of traffic to deafen the beauty of their songs – all in different keys yet in perfect harmony. The traffic has nearly stopped except for ambulances and police vehicles out to catch anyone breaking the strict regulations now in place to harness Covid-19.
Africa waits in suspense, in silence, for the virus to break out in our low-economy countries where many are malnourished and yet cannot reach a health worker. Expectant women go into labour without assistance and some have delivered at the side of the road trying to reach help. At least one mother has died.

Here in Uganda there have been no deaths at the time of writing, and 38 recovered. Many of the cases so far involved people who had flown in from abroad. But we do fear that once the virus gets into the rural communities and urban slums, it will pass like wildfire among those who cannot reach a health worker. So we are in lockdown, waiting with baited breath for the long incubation period for Covid-19 to end and the explosion to occur.

The divide between the rich and poor is getting wider with the loss of jobs and loss of ability to buy food. The farmers in the villages are growing crops and God has been sending us enough rain, though even this seems to have become restricted in the past week. Our fruit and vegetables are available where grown, but the transport to bring them to the vendors has stopped. Local shops – dukkas – are suffering and the poor, living without fridges, need to get their fresh food every day. Families have extra mouths to feed with children sent home from school as part of the strict isolation now demanded.
Hospice Africa has an ethos which puts our 1,500 patients at the centre of all we do. With emergencies and visits to the dying, we use our very limited PPE to protect those dedicated nurses who are going into homes in need in the communities.We have received a donation of disposable gowns and have home-made masks, stitched together with local cotton lined with fabric from old T-shirts and dresses, which cost 20p each from a dressmaker.

The Irish embassy is giving us some funds and the local World Health Organisation office has offered us equipment when it arrives but there is no sign as yet. Meanwhile, our charity shops back in Britain and France have had to close. Our wonderful, selfless volunteers in our shops in Old Swan and Ainsdale are all over 70 so have to stay at home.   

Will Hospice Africa survive this crisis? Will our 27 years of care and our vision for the future all vanish because of Covid-19? God is with us and has His own plan for our world. There is encouragement as silence brings nature to our ears. I wake each morning thanking God for the songs from the nests of the birds in the trees outside my window. Their joyous song is one of hope.

• Even prior to the lockdown, Hospice Africa faced an income shortfall of £80,000 to reach the end of the financial year on 31 June. To help raise funds, Anne Merriman has begun a sponsored walk on the balcony of her home in Kampala, with the aim of completing 20 laps a day for the 25 days leading up to her 85th birthday on 13 May. To make a donation, please visit: https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?pageId=1161652