Reflections from the Pandemic years 2020-2021

‘COVID-19 has ‘eclipsed’ our lives’. Our hearts and minds are first and foremost with the ECLIPSE communities in Brazil, Ethiopia and Sri Lanka in this long, difficult and unprecedented pandemic. The idea that the COVID-19 virus is an equal opportunity killer – or ‘a great leveller’ as some call it – is problematic and utter nonsense. The virus might not discriminate between race, class or country, but the consequences of this global health pandemic are certainly not the same for all. The most vulnerable communities are most affected by the virus and by the lockdown restrictions.

Global health does not respect borders. In these ‘unprecedented times’ it has become abundantly clear that global health also means local health. I think of the poetic saying that when a butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil, it can set off a tornado in Texas. For better or worse, we are in this together. The COVID-19 lets us re-evaluate what we often take for granted.

All artwork on this page is by Martine Vandevelde, ECLIPSE and ANGLES artist

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the ECLIPSE team has continued to work on cutaneous leishmaniasis: recruiting team members, working on literature reviews, obtaining ethics approvals for the empirical research, working on community engagement and involvement and organising training sessions. We asked ECLIPSE members in Brazil, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka and the United Kingdom for short COVID-19 updates and impressions (all written in the Spring of 2020).

From our team members in Brazil

I write my reflection based on the words of three indigenous leaders from the State of Bahia during the public debate at the UFBA Virtual Congress. The speakers highlighted the critical situation caused by the rapid dismantlement of public institutions for indigenous protection. COVID-19 resulted in the acute aggravation of the healthcare’s systems chronic problems: insufficient funding and human resources, low healthcare quality, culturally inappropriate health practices and the lack of confidence in epidemiological and service monitoring data. Without the support of the government, local control of the coronavirus among indigenous communities relied solely on their initiative. The indigenous social movement started to produce statistics on the impact of the pandemic by strengthening the coordination between all the 305 indigenous ethnicities in Brazil. In each community, the spirit of union and solidarity is getting stronger day-by-day. The ‘collective bravery and huge creativity’ of these communities have led to the monitoring of all public access to indigenous areas, the production of masks, and the proliferation of traditional healthcare prevention practices. Ancestral knowledge and human solidarity are the only possible solution. (Leo Pedrana)

I remember very well when the ECLIPSE Keele team members were in Salvador and the pandemic seemed like a sensational exaggeration. Little did we imagine what was about to come shortly, either in Brazil or in the world. At this moment we have spent 3 months in social isolation which is profoundly affecting us all. The SUS (Unified Health System) proved to be our antidote against misinformation about COVID-19. I am very thankful for the consolidated SUS, managed by highly competent and respected people in communities across all regions of Brazil for stepping up and reducing the suffering of so many COVID-19 patients. (Gisela dos Santos)

At this very moment of writing [June 2020], more than one Brazilian is dying per minute due to COVID-19, and we have already lost more than 42,000 humans in this terrible war. The worst is to think that perhaps the worst is yet to come. Hope is based in the sacrifice, dedication and hard work of so many Brazilians committed to face it, and saying everyday to themselves and to the whole country: ‘we will win, we shall never surrender’. (Paulo Machado)

There is a place in my neighborhood called Praça 2 de Julho. It is a big and important square in this city where people usually exercise, come to have fun and bring their children to play on the swings installed in the square. Today (Sunday) is a day that this square used to be really full of children playing around but is empty instead. A few people still come to exercise, but only round the square. (Giselle Ferraz)

From our team members in Ethiopia

When the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Ethiopia on 13 March 2020, tension and fear flooded in the Africa’s second most populous country. The public started panicking. Confusion pre-vailed so quickly. Endless questions, but only very few answers.  COVID-19 shook the sociocultural fabric of our communities. Social distancing measures have been really tough. Handshaking and kissing on the cheek and/or forehead are day-to-day greeting rituals that most Ethiopians are still tempted to engage in despite knowing the risk they carry during the COVID-19 crisis.  As a matter of unfortunate coincidence, the preceding couple of months are known for busy sociocultural events: weddings, Mariam ginbot (get together feasts), mass prayers on Good Friday, Tezkars (memorial events for deceased beloved ones), etc. Anticipating their risks, the regional and federal governments have banned such massive gatherings till the pandemic’s dust settles. What a relief! (Mebrahten Gebremariam)

I had to self-quarantine at home for two weeks after I came back home from the US on the 12 March 2020. It was such a difficult time to be all alone and not to get closer to anyone, especially the kids who were eagerly waiting for three weeks to hug me and check my luggage for sweets and chocolates as they always. So, I had to greet them from a distance and lock myself in the room. That was the most difficult moment as a dad. Especially my younger one did not know what was going on and I still remember the confusion on her face. Another experience was seeing the pile of dishes in my room since I cannot do the dishes so as not to touch the washing facilities, just in case. I did not also want anyone else to do them for me. You can imagine how messy the room would look like, with every single cup, plate, spoon, etc. being piled up on my table. After a fortnight, you have no idea how I felt when I learned that I am OK and after all the anxiety, I met the family. (Zenawi Zerihun)

A lot of people still defy government orders to stay at home, wear masks or even keep social distancing although personal handshakes have now become rare and far between. There is also a widely held belief that COVID-19 is a ‘whiteman’s disease’ and that blacks are not prone to it. There have also been rumors that the disease can be treated using garlic, ginger, lemon, and honey. Now that the Ministry of Health started to report cases on a Federal daily basis, communities have gradually started to get convinced that COVID-19 is indeed a global health threat. (Kelemework Tafere)

Following the invitation from my university to join a community service project on COVID-19 prevention, I have been actively working with my team to increase people’s awareness about the pandemic. We are producing preventive manuals and short videos aimed at raising awareness among communities in Tigray. Since I live in a region where the majority of the population resides in rural areas with scant opportunities to acquire awareness about the pandemic and prevention measures, I did not hesitate to involve myself in this valuable project. With the number of the infected peoples and deaths currently increasing in Ethiopia, our project is aiming to expand its outreach to remote areas. We are especially aiming to inform the vulnerable groups in society such as women, children and people with low income. (Mahlet Alemu Gebrihiwot)

In my city, people are confused with both the nature of the virus and its multifaceted consequences. I know that changing people’s perceptions and attitudes are equally, if not more, important than just treating the disease itself. However, in my city I was able to witness firsthand how people are in dilemma about COVID-19 where even directions given from professionals are swiftly changing. Recently, I observed a man withdrawing money from the bank and told to wash his hands, but he put the money in his mouth and continues to wash. This man thought that the virus could be contaminated only by his hand not through the paper notes. (Binega Haileselassie)

From our team members in Sri Lanka

COVID-19 has brought with it an opportunity to view life from quite a different perspective. The sudden lockdown has interrupted my teaching at the university. Initially, I thought that this would give me the chance to relax and spend time with my family. But within a few days, life became really stressful due to loneliness, lack of access to food and other necessities, despite having enough cash in hand. I learned from relatives and students that people living in small villages have a stronger capacity to cope with these uncertain times than those living in cities, by mobilizing their social networks. To adhere to social distance regulations, our university has instructed us to commence online teaching. My experience confirmed that COVID-19 is reinforcing existing urban-rural and rich-poor disparities in education as marginalized sections of society have no access to devices or WiFi connection. Portrayals of ‘home as a safe place’ are not always true, with rates of domestic violence indeed increasing during lockdown. Overall, Sri Lanka has been successful in containing the pandemic. However, top-down communication by experts and social distancing strategies generally lack culture competency and if these are to be carried forward, our ‘new normal’ might impact certain groups of society more than others. (Chandani Liyanage)

COVID 19 took a toll on us, that goes without saying. But strangely, I also found myself being thankful for most of the things I took for granted. I was used to the bustling city life, with traffic and street food, unknown faces passing me every day on the street, dressing up and putting on makeup. It was a never-ending hustle, which I was slowly accustoming myself into. But when you are in your mid-twenties and you are stuck inside a house, with an uncertain future, you get a chance to re-evaluate your values. And that’s what I did. COVID-19 changed the millennial mindset I had, now I understand that a busy life, pushing yourself to limits every day and continuous hustling is not the life I want. The ‘new normal’ won’t be easy, but every dark cloud has a silver lining, and seeing the good in the bad situation, however hard it is, will help us go a long way. (Hasara Nuwangi)

For me, COVID-19 is something that goes beyond a ‘deadly virus’. It has taught us plenty of wonderful lessons; how to love each other, how to be kind and helpful, how to be selfless, how to spend quality time with the people you love, how to comfort each other, how to appreciate little things and more importantly how to manage what you have and be happy with little stuff. As a resident from a very calm, beautiful and rural area in my country, Sri Lanka, we always knew how to survive the worst through helping and caring for each other. The only difference with COVID-19 was that we had to do it while maintaining ‘social distancing’. Personally, I’d like to call it ‘physical distancing’, because no one in my village isolated from anyone socially. They shared extra vegetables with each other, sewed and distributed masks free of charge, helped financially the poorest families and at the very minimum, called each other to ask ‘how are you doing?’. So I believe that we can survive even during the most difficult situations (it can be a pandemic, a war, a natural disaster or the end of the world) if we care and love each other. A little love is needed to cure a broken world. (Sonali Gunasekara)

The second ECLISPE Newsletter, released in July 2020, was dedicated to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can download it here