Special Focus Covid 19 : ETHIOPIA
September 30 2020
The Guardian Essay staff
Yonas Tadesse is an Ethiopian photographer based in Addis Ababa who has been documenting doctors and emergency workers fighting coronavirus since the beginning of the outbreak. This series focuses on the taskforce at the Eka Kotebe hospital in Addis Ababa
The first case of Covid-19 in Ethiopia was reported on 13 March, when a team of first responders took in a 48-year-old Japanese man. Having never seen anything like his condition, they did not know what to prepare for, and thus started their new normal of battling the coronavirus in Ethiopia.
Doctors, nurses, janitors, security guards and drivers donned hats they had never dreamed of wearing as they worked to develop systems and techniques to minimise the damage from the virus – often at the cost of their health, their home lives, their reputations, and sometimes their lives.
My name is Dr Kalkidan, I was the first person to admit the first Covid-19 positive patient from Japan.
It was sudden. We weren’t really expecting patients. We were told to prepare the facility. I didn’t bring a change of clothes. I came to do the routine drills. I was terrified. I used to say I wasn’t scared, but I thought to myself about how I must love my life.
We had to take his blood ourselves, which meant we had to touch him. I was uncomfortable leaving because the man kept coughing constantly and saying he was suffocating. I wanted to auscultate, but that was not an option. I was just scared.
I talked to friends I’d left on bad notes. I couldn’t talk to my mum. I only talked to my sister. All the regrets and mistakes in life come rushing at you in times like this. I have pre-existing issues with depression and anxiety and it took a lot for me to be back here. I was very upset.
I’m not saying we have to be reckless, but I think we need to have some faith. I don’t think we needed to be that daunted. I think we exaggerated too much going in at first. I mean, God works here too, right? I don’t think we needed to be that stressed. I think we’ve compromised a lot out of fear.
My name is Dr Kalkidan, I was the first person to admit the first Covid-19 positive patient from Japan.It was sudden. We weren’t really expecting patients. We were told to prepare the facility. I didn’t bring a change of clothes. I came to do the routine drills. I was terrified. I used to say I wasn’t scared, but I thought to myself about how I must love my life.We had to take his blood ourselves, which meant we had to touch him. I was uncomfortable leaving because the man kept coughing constantly and saying he was suffocating. I wanted to auscultate, but that was not an option. I was just scared.I talked to friends I’d left on bad notes. I couldn’t talk to my mum. I only talked to my sister. All the regrets and mistakes in life come rushing at you in times like this. I have pre-existing issues with depression and anxiety and it took a lot for me to be back here. I was very upset.I’m not saying we have to be reckless, but I think we need to have some faith. I don’t think we needed to be that daunted. I think we exaggerated too much going in at first. I mean, God works here too, right? I don’t think we needed to be that stressed. I think we’ve compromised a lot out of fear.
My name is Paulos Seid. I was born and raised in a town called Elebabor, Gore. I am married and a father of a son and twin daughters. I’d worked at Kotebe hospital as a security guard for five months when the coronavirus pandemic was reported in our country.During the preparations to battle the virus, there was a big shortage of manpower, so I was asked to carry the responsibility of ‘sprayer’. I did not hesitate. Every time I do the job, I feel that I’m eradicating the virus, so I feel proud.But this job has cost me some things. Friends who would normally join me for lunch have come to hate me. They beg me in God’s name not to go near them. It breaks my heart, but the work I do gives me a sense of purpose. I can’t wait for all this to end so I can see my children.
My name is Makeda. The worst day so far was when we lost our first patient.Mothers are leaving their children behind, families are scattering because of this – you can’t bury your dead.We’re losing our joy. From day one, when I think of coronavirus, I think of my family, of people I love. It makes me think I have no guarantee that my mother will not be in this hospital bed next. Or my friends. It’s very painful.This might be the first time in my life I thought about my country. But I will continue to serve until my last minute alive because I am here for a reason.
My name is Dr Rediet. One time, I was doing rounds with the doctors and transferring patients. After we were done, we heard the patients asking for help. I was doffing. I’d almost gotten my apron off. We ran to the patients and realised Ato Tesfaye did not have a pulse, no cardiac beat, no radial pulse. I fixed the bed for him and we started doing CPR. As this was an emergency, we were required to do CPR on a salvageable patient. I was the one still wearing full protective gear so it was OK for me to give CPR. We did two cycles of chest compression and we were able to bring him back. We were lucky because we heard the call for help.
My name is Demoz. I worked at the Eka hospital before coronavirus. I have three kids. I live with my husband. I have high blood pressure, but I can’t afford to stop working. I’ve given the responsibility to God. We will be tested under the pressure until this is over. We’re not going anywhere.
I am Workneh Hora. I am a father of two. I’ve fought in the Ethiopian-Eritrean war. At this time, I’m doing my national duty as a sprayer and hospital guard. I also help bury those who’ve died in the pandemic. I wasn’t scared at all when I started the job. Spraying chemicals is nothing. I’ve gone through wars with bullets. So, I am not at all afraid of death.
My name is Etagegn Tessema. I was born in Lasta, Wollo. I am 50 years old, married and a mother of one. To support my husband and my son, I’d walk from Gabriel where I live, all the way to Ayat and work as a day labourer. I did this for 12 years. And now I’ve been working as a janitor at this hospital for the past year. When the pandemic came, I was the only one who supported my family so I did not hesitate to continue working. I’d go back home after work and my good neighbours and friends wouldn’t face me. But I don’t have a choice but to keep at my job. I ask for God to say this is enough so my neighbours and I could go back to our old friendship.
My name is Melat. When I see people who catch the virus and come from different places and different lives, different responsibilities; people who come from comfort; afraid, stressed, defeated and separated from those they love, alone. When I see and hear the strain it’s created on their families, I get disturbed. There are many situations where I cried. I would see such chaos in between survival and death. Like a thick rope worn away and held together by a string. That string is hope. Feeling like it’s over and they’ll die when the pain comes and then again hoping to recover when they feel a bit better. I hate living watching this anxiety. But as a health soldier, I will proudly remember the day I decided to fight this enemy of my people, the day I decided to ache and die with them.
My name is Martha. Helping people makes me happy. That’s why I became a nurse. I feel like I’m closer to God when I help those in need. I believe that God has plans for everyone and this was his plan for me. Being a nurse is more than being a mother or sister and I’m happy to make the slightest influence doing this. Being a nurse was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
My name is Jerry. It feels like a dream. I’ve never considered my family and that I would face this kind of challenge. But I’ve left my three children and especially my breastfeeding infant with their father and come here to the hospital. I don’t know when this pandemic will vanish from this country so I can see my children again. I worry about this a lot. I want to cry but I don’t want my friends to see that so I try my best to appear strong. God forbid, if I caught the disease and something worse happened, I’d hate to think about what will happen to my husband and my kids. My husband helps and supports me. But when I get stressed he says: ‘Just leave it and come home. We’ll accept whatever comes together. I can’t leave if something happened to you. Who will raise the kids? You should put your family first.’ But doing that will be treason on my profession, my country and myself. I consider that to be theft. I worry; I don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
My name is Dr Sara. My first duty was the scariest moment of my life. My family is always reminding me of the Hippocratic oath I made at my graduation. They make me feel like I am a soldier in a war. On top of this, the unity among colleagues for a common goal was very inspiring. During the first few days of my patient rounds, my head was full of questions in terms of how much time I needed to spend with my patients while keeping myself safe. Then one night I tried to put myself in their shoes and their attendants. How painful it could be for someone to be in a hospital bed without talking to their loved ones, not getting emotional support from family and friends and God forbid, die without even saying goodbye.