A Mennonite-run hospital in East Africa is preparing to deal with the global coronavirus pandemic.
The first case of COVID-19 in Tanzania was confirmed March 16 after an individual traveled to the nation from Belgium. The number of cases had risen to at least 13 by March 27. All educational institutions are closed for at least one month, and events across the country have been canceled.
The Tanzanian government has ordered that each hospital prepare a separate ward to treat patients with COVID-19, so Friends of Shirati hopes to cover the costs of preparing that area at Shirati Hospital.
Shirati Hospital, a 180-bed hospital near the shores of Lake Victoria, is run as a ministry of the Tanzania Mennonite Church. It was started by Mennonite missionaries in 1935.
Friends of Shirati, a nonprofit that supports public health, education and sustainable development, is gearing up for how shortages of medical equipment and supplies, potential infection of health-care workers and public health crises will strain capacity.
“We’re asking ourselves what long-term support for a hospital that could soon find itself overrun by patients infected with COVID-19 will look like,” said Dale Ressler, volunteer executive director of Friends of Shirati.
Without a ventilator
Ressler recently sent an appeal to supporters for donations to purchase extra gloves, masks and possibly other supplies and equipment. There is no ventilator at the hospital. The government has mandated every hospital prepare an area to treat patients with the coronavirus.
Friends of Shirati was scheduled to hold its annual fundraising banquet March 14 in Mount Joy, Pa., but it was canceled to limit spreading the virus. Bwire Chirangi, medical officer in charge of Shirati Hospital, and Josiah Mekere, chair of the Shirati Hospital board of directors, were in the U.S. to give presentations at the banquet. Both were able to find flights back to Tanzania. Chirangi delayed his return to Shirati to self-isolate.
The hospital serves everyone, regardless of ability to pay.
“The hospital has maintained its core commitment of providing affordable and accessible health services to all, irrespective of religious, tribal, political ideology or social status,” said Mekere, who chose the medical field in large part because of the legacy of Mennonite missionaries working in public health during the 20th century.
“How many people would have died during the smallpox epidemic that occurred in Tanganyika in 1948 if the missionary teams had not vaccinated more than 61,000 people?”
Friends of Shirati has collaborated to install solar water and solar electricity systems.
The nonprofit also provides grants to Shirati Hospital for medicine and medical supplies, pays hospital bills for children whose families can’t afford to pay and supports community education efforts that raise awareness about HIV and AIDS. Each month more than 300 children living with HIV/AIDS come to Shirati Hospital to receive medication and a meal and money.
The fundraising banquet will likely be held later in the year. Friends of Shirati invites donations at friendsofshirati.org.