(CNN) — More than 1.2 million people in Africa have been infected with Covid-19 — and some experts warn the peak has yet to hit the continent.
Infectious disease specialists caution that cases might be much higher than reported due to a lack of testing and struggling health care systems.
But three CNN Heroes working in Africa halted their usual efforts to dedicate their time to slowing the spread of the virus.
‘It is an incredible responsibility’
Mebrahtu’s factory normally manufactures reusable menstrual pads for girls in Ethiopia, allowing them to stay in school. Through partner organization Dignity Period, she helps distribute the pads and raise awareness on the issue.
Since March, however, Mebrahtu has been working to manufacture masks and get them into the hands of those who need them most.
“We have produced over 50,000 cloth masks to help out the most vulnerable women and children in our community,” she said.
She and her team distribute the masks along the main thoroughfare of Mekelle, a capital city in northern Ethiopia. Many women sell fruit and vegetables on this street and are in contact with people all day long, making masks essential for their safety.
“We’re talking about a fundamental lifestyle change for our communities,” Mebrahtu said. “Life here is very much communal, so we are trying to maintain social wants at a distance.”
To that end, she also speaks out to the public about the importance of masks and social distance.
“We have culture that puts high value on its elders,” Mebrahtu said. “So, my age and the recognition for our work from CNN Heroes, it seems like people have time for what I have to say. It is an incredible responsibility and I am trying my best to be worthy of this.”
Safari Doctors respond to Covid-19
In Kenya’s remote coastal areas, the reality of battling the pandemic exists alongside the struggle of living in poverty.
Umra Omar sees these struggles firsthand. She and her nonprofit, Safari Doctors, travel by air, sea and land to bring free medical care to people living along the country’s remote coastline.
“Where we work, jobs are definitely what we call ‘casual labor,’ as somebody going out to look for their daily bread that very same day that it’s needed,” said Omar, a 2016 CNN Hero. “So, the Covid-19 pandemic has definitely put a big dent on that one. It’s like, ‘I might die of hunger before I die of corona.'”
Omar and her team began social distancing measures, added wash stations at their clinics and wear extra protective gear. They also are spreading crucial awareness throughout the community.
“There’s a lot of misinformation that it’s a disease that’s not going to come all the way to the rural areas,” Omar said. “Information sharing is the number one key. We set up all the billboards in the entryways of Lamu covering the messaging around Covid-19.”
Even through this difficult time, Omar has seen a positive impact.
“The biggest silver lining for us is more rigorous hand-washing campaigns that are seeing a reduction of cases like diarrhea,” Omar said. “And seeing how the young kids now really are thorough in hygiene,”
Protecting fellow Cameroonians
In Cameroon, 2013 CNN Hero Dr. Georges Bwelle and his nonprofit, ASCOVIME, bring free medical and surgical clinics to hundreds of thousands of people in rural villages.
But when Covid-19 hit, Bwelle and his team knew it was unsafe for crowds to gather for their clinics. So, they found new ways to keep their fellow Cameroonians healthy — by providing supplies, protective gear and knowledge.
“We decided to stop our mobile clinic to focus only (on sensitizing the) population about Covid-19, about how to apply the protective measure,” Bwelle said. “And offer to all people that we meet protective kits.”
Their kits contain essential items such as hand sanitizer, soap, masks and food. To date, the group has distributed them to 35,000 people and 7,000 health care workers all over Cameroon.
The organization focuses on getting kits to the most vulnerable, including those living in orphanages and nursing homes and internationally displaced people.
“I think ASCOVIME more will contribute to reduce the number of patients with coronavirus,” Bwelle said. “I hope this work will reduce the number of people who die due to coronavirus. That’s my dream.”
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