The virus joins a host of other diseases

“Social distancing is nigh impossible,” writes Dr Mark Griffiths, “when people live in small rooms with lots of other people and in a neighbourhood with high density housing, only sharing one tap between many and all eating from one large dish, to name a few practical issues. Encouraging people not to shake hands seems totally weird and laughable to folk here.”

This is the situation in the nation of Niger, West Africa.

When numbers of COVID-19 cases started to grow rapidly, the government put night curfews in place in the capital city of Niamey and people are encouraged to wear face masks. Schools have been closed. Markets finally could stay open because to close them would could cause hunger and hardship.

However, it seems the infection rate of the virus is slowing down, and at this point not showing the rapid spread seen in the West for reasons Mark can only surmise – perhaps due to people’s immunity, with the BCG (Tuberculosis) vaccine being so prevalent in the population, or because of the extremely hot temperatures. April and May are tough months in Niger, most of which lies within the Sahara desert. Typical daytime temperatures are over 40 degrees, often reaching 45. Heat and dust are part of normal life.

Since 2005, Mark and Faye Griffiths from Palmerston North have been based in the city of Maradi, providing medical care and support to local people at a SIM-funded hospital there. Much of Mark’s medical caseload involves malaria, TB, pneumonia, injury wounds, and leprosy, and his view is that since the country is already living in the grip of other epidemics, especially malaria, the effects of Covid-19 may result in the overall illness rates only being slightly higher than usual.

To put medical work in a wider perspective, Niger has the world’s highest child mortality rate (on average 248 children out of every 1000 do not survive to age 5), and highest maternal mortality rate. It also has the highest fertility rate in the world, with half the population younger than age 15. There are only 3 doctors per 100,000 people (the New Zealand figure is 317). In this context, SIM’s medical workers are heroic. But Mark has a different take on this: “In view of the huge need, workers are obliged to set firm boundaries in their work in order to survive long term. I’m still working through this!”

Faye, originally an English teacher, now teaches literacy in the Maradi prison. She also has an administrative role paying bills and issuing cash for missionaries and is involved in a weekly Bible study with women who work in the compound.

Niger is predominantly Muslim. In conversations about the new epidemic, Mark reports that many local people express “…their hope in Allah, that he will spare their city. The harder task for us is to link this hope with the much greater hope of forgiveness and resurrection offered in the Gospels. What I often find here is a reluctance on people’s part to explore this hope.”

Mark concludes, “We have been having a lot of interest in the gospel in the prison context, but with COVID we have been asked to suspend our visits there. Please pray that the Lord will lead us to people he is touching”.

David Blaker

Pray for the Griffiths:

 that we will keep our relationship with God the main thing with the pressing demands we experience

 that we will be obedient to His leading and know a boldness and wisdom in relating to our friends here.

[Statements given here about Covid-19 and responses to them were correct at the time of writing, but circumstances are changing rapidly and may overtake some of the information given here.]