COVID-19 is commanding all our attention these days. We want to give you a little insight into how it is affecting the lives of Nicaraguans and what the government here is doing to address this virus before we write about the other news of the Center for Development in Central America.
Nicaragua has had at least 137 people die from COVID-19. One was our clinic’s health promoter, Jessenia. She already had only 10% use of one kidney and was on dialysis. When she contracted the virus, she went into the hospital and later died. Her body was taken from the hospital directly to the grave here in the cemetery of Ciudad Sandino. She had been on sick-leave from the clinic for several months before contracting the virus. Losing Jessenia was heart-breaking for all of us, especially her two children, a new grandson, and her parents. Not having a wake or funeral was difficult, to say the very least.
Jessenia Castillo was our first paid health promoter and the work she did was phenomenal. She started and maintained:
- Monthly classes for all our chronic care patients
- Four new mothers’ support groups covering pregnancy through children 5 years old
- A group for parents with asthmatic children
- A group for the LBGTQ+ community
- and 30 lay health promoters in three rural communities as well as the Nueva Vida community.
Jessenia worked well and closely with volunteers. She learned quickly. She went into the community and did home visits, sometimes daily. She was soft-spoken, kind, loving, and had a backbone that was strong. We all miss her and we dedicate this newsletter to her memory.
Nicaragua has had one of the lowest rates of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Latin America (currently 3,659). There has been lots of international news about the country “hiding” the severity of the impact of the virus; but Nicaragua started addressing this pandemic earlier than most other nations with health brigades going house-to-house across the country explaining symptoms of the virus and teaching prevention. People who sew started making masks and selling them for $0.40-$0.60 cents; handwashing stations were set up nationwide; campaigns teaching people how to be safe went on television, radio, and billboards.
There are limited reagents for testing available, which means that within the universal health care system provided by the government, only government clinics test for COVID-19. When our doctors see a patient that they think has COVID, they send that patient to the public health clinic for testing. The Ministry of Health does contact tracing and follow-up. In 19 hospitals the ICUs have been expanded and more ventilators have been added. One hundred Cuban doctors are here helping to address the pandemic.
All three of our doctors got COVID; two were tested and one did not get tested. Similar to the United States, here many people get tested and many do not. Some in the United States, like our daughter, had many of the symptoms. She and her doctor agreed that she probably had COVID, but the test - which is still not completely reliable - came back negative. All of that means that, of course, Nicaragua has had more cases than are reported… JUST. LIKE. EVERY. OTHER. NATION in the world.
For sensible reasons (Read more here in our blog: https://jhc-cdca.blogspot.com/2020/04/nicaraguas-response-to-covid-19_16.html), Nicaragua did not shut down like many other countries did. Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Americas, and poor people who stay home from work starve. Because Nicaragua did not close, it has had one of the highest rates of export growth in the world during this period.
Schools have stayed open and provide meals for 1.6 million children daily, but the government has offered catch-up classes on television and radio so that if parents felt uncomfortable sending their kids to school, they did not have to choose between illness and falling behind.
At most businesses and all government offices, alcohol gel is provided, people wear masks, and there are mats with disinfectant to clean the bottom of one’s shoes before entering.
The big Revolution Day celebration that attracts hundreds of thousands of people every 19th of July was mostly virtual and celebrating at home was encouraged: instead, fireworks could be seen from a car, virtual concerts were on television and radio, and the president’s State-of-the-Union-like address was virtual with only the cabinet seated behind him and young people in socially distanced seats circling a star…all wearing masks.
There has been much made in the U.S. press of Nicaraguan doctors being fired during the pandemic…what most of you don’t know is that many refused to care for patients in rural areas after receiving their medical training for free from the government. It would be somewhat like an Air Force-trained pilot deciding that they would rather not fly a particular plane.
During this hard time of the pandemic, the U.S. has continued its sanctions against Nicaragua…forcing the country to look to other powerful nations for aid, like Russia and China.
Adding to this, a document was leaked to Nicaraguan journalists from the U.S. Embassy detailing plans by the U.S. State Department to overthrow the current Nicaraguan government. The plan is titled RAIN (Responsive Assistance in Nicaragua). The document details how the USAID-led effort will use the COVID-19 pandemic and false news to seed a lack of confidence in the government leading to destabilization; how those participating will interfere in Nicaragua’s general elections in November 2021, picking a candidate to run against the incumbent Sandinista president; and how if the Sandinistas still win the election, they will create an economic and political crisis by cutting off basic services and provoking increased organized crime to bring about a “transition of government,” putting into office a hand-picked pro-U.S. President. If past presidents hand-picked by the U.S. are anything to go by, such a “transition” through a coup would be disastrous for the Nicaraguan people.
Our own experience, living through our first 16 years in Nicaragua under pro-U.S. neo-liberal Nicaraguan presidents, showed that they cared not one whit for the poor who make up the majority, caring only to line their pockets and the pockets of the wealthy. Rather than improving the infrastructure of the nation, they methodically tore down all social programs. Look here to read the leaked document: https://s3.amazonaws.com/rlp680/files/uploads/2020/07/31/aid-mayo-2020-ingles.pdf. Please help by writing your senators and representatives to ask for them to read the paper and pay attention to what is happening in Nicaragua.
During this pandemic, we are taking care of both the staff and patients who come to our Nueva Vida Clinic in the best way we know how. Except for small children, all patients and staff must wear masks. They must remain two meters apart. We check in patients outside under a tarp to limit close contact inside.
Thanks to generous emergency donations, we have purchased gowns, hair coverings, masks, and face shields that the staff in direct contact with patients must wear. We disinfect exam rooms and dental rooms after each patient with bleach, that we make using a donated bleach-maker, reducing costs. We make home deliveries of medicine to our chronic care patients who are most at risk. Three of our chronic care patients have died during this pandemic.
We did close the clinic and the CDCA for the month of June when the pandemic was at its peak here, but opened back up on 1st of July. Before we closed, however, we went house-to-house delivering monthly medications to our chronic care patients. During June, those of us who could do so worked from home, including our therapist who did phone counseling from her home.
Our project directors knew that this virus is going to be with us long-term. We decided that we needed to protect the staff, but continue working, and so we are doing our very best to provide services, even with limited funding.
We opened up our newly-finished training room and started our educational outreach again. The first classes were with our lay health promoters to teach them about dental care and how to recognize dental emergencies and when patients need a dentist. All wore masks and were seated two meters apart.
We have opened up non-critical care again: eye vision checks and eye glasses, PAPs, ultrasounds, and family planning.
A non-profit, HIKMA, is working with us pro-bono to develop a bilingual digital patient record-keeping system for the Nueva Vida Clinic, usable offline with tablets and phones, making use during home visits possible. Since our dental hygienist Ligia is unable to do dental cleanings currently, she is using her time to work with Sarah in custom-designing the digital system to meet the clinic’s needs and be easy for staff to use. We are currently in need of 16 tablets/phones, to bring the system online.
We are taking the teen boys group (Los Leones) and girls group (Las Lobas) to computer classes that have restarted...just a few students at a time wearing masks and with social distancing.
We have hired a new health promoter, Emir. He had been working at the clinic as an intern while he finished his university degree in social work. We welcome him to our staff. He has big shoes to fill in carrying on Jessenia’s work.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
COPROEXNIC, the organic agriculture cooperative is busy with crops going in the ground and harvests coming into the sesame processing plant. The first part of the rainy season was good and bore a good first harvest of sesame seeds. Fields have been plowed and the second crop of organic sesame and the first crop of organic peanuts are being planted. We hope and pray the rains will stay plentiful.
Together with the cooperative, we are looking at ways to process the organic peanuts in a timelier manner and at a cheaper cost than what we have been doing.
COPROEXNIC received a grant from Shared Interest to help the cooperative continue to improve agricultural techniques and to incorporate more women in agricultural production.
Despite the closing of hundreds of coffee shops in the States, Farmer Shares, a project of the CDCA, is getting more and more subscriptions to buy bags of roasted Nicaraguan coffee from El Porvenir, a small cooperative living in poverty on a remote mountain. We have put together a video (https://youtu.be/tfQmsq1Xn-E) that shows how your purchase of a bag of really tasty coffee can help El Porvenir.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Our educational outreach has taken a virtual turn. We have presented our work in five different ZOOM meetings so far. One was hacked, but we have since learned how to protect our presentations. We have received positive comments on the quality of the presentation. The ZOOMs last for an hour with 15 minutes being devoted to a powerpoint presentation followed by roughly 45 minutes of questions and answers. Our next one will be September 24th, 4PM EDT, check here https://jhc-cdca.org/how-to-help/upcoming-speaking-opportunities/ for the login link and a list of other upcoming presentations. Email Sarah@jhc-cdca.org to invite us to your church or Rotary Club. Or even for a livingroom gathering of friends.
Although tourism has taken a big hit, our education and hospitality center Casa Ben Linder has still been able to host a few Nicaraguan guests each week, and recently was able to rent out its large covered outdoor area for a socially-distanced balloon art class!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The ones of us over 60 years of age are staying self-isolated in our home and working from there. We’ve been at this for almost six months now…sigh. The younger ones of us are going out into the world to run errands and are taking all possible precautions not to get sick or bring the virus back to the CDCA.
Daniel and Claudia’s daughter, Samantha, turned two with only the community and her other grandmother celebrating in person. She brings such joy to all of the community.
After studying from home for four months, Becca and Paul’s daughters, Eibhlín and Orla, now go to school one day a week when the class sizes are small to allow social distancing. They are extremely careful to wear masks, change their clothes before visiting with us, and constantly wash their hands.
Becca has taken to wearing a hijab out in public to cover not only her nose and mouth but her hair as well. She says it is far more comfortable than a mask.
We are all enjoying Kathleen’s mother, Peggy (age 90), who was stranded here by the virus.
And on another happy note, we celebrated remotely the wedding of Tiff and Liz with her immediate family in Alaska.
We keep hearing people talk about how they wish they could get back to “normal.” Each time, I think about a line in a Bruce Cockburn song, “The trouble with normal is that it always gets worse.”
One of the effects of COVID-19 has been to highlight in a clear, concise manner how “normal” is getting worse. It accents many of the problems of the world. In my birth nation, the United States of America, with all of its wealth:
- Homeless people sleep on the streets or in marked off parking lots terrified they might get the virus.
- People who were living paycheck to paycheck are running the risks of eviction, adding to the number of homeless people. They are also running the risk of hunger.
- People with disabilities are suffering with lack of support and afraid that if they get COVID then they will be the last to be treated.
- Parents are scared to send their kids back to school and scared not to send them back.
- Police brutality has become a focus for many of color…and federal agents are reacting to protests as in a nation of fascism.
- Our parents and grandparents are terrified of getting the virus in all the assisted living spaces that house them… and they too have lost community and family.
- Prisons have become death camps.
- Alcoholism and drug addiction, including overdoses, are growing with the loss of community.
- White supremacy is rearing its…not ugly head…but its whole ugly body. Protesting stupid things like not wearing masks with automatic…or war-worthy…guns.
- The World Health Organization has been under attack as well as the Center for Disease Control.
- The Third World is being manipulated, to its own detriment, to provide large corporations natural resources.
Cooperation and community are a lost concept. We cannot go back to normal because it is getting worse. What we take for granted now, we never would’ve ten years ago. We have to be better. We have to create a new normal filled with:
- Housing for all around the world.
- Food for all around the world.
- Health care for all around the world.
- Criminal justice for all around the world
- The end of brutality for all around the world.
- The beginning of true cooperation globally on health issues, hunger, human rights, race, class, women’s issues, LBGTQ issues, housing, climate, and peace.
- The beginning of community with the poor worldwide.
- The beginning of community with each other…those in China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela as well as Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas.
Acting as a community on a global level we can address pandemics quickly and efficiently. We can address climate change before we reach the limit of no-return, but only if we cooperate and live in community with one another.
In the past we have allowed normalcy to seduce us into complacency and greed. The trouble with normal is that it always gets worse.
Time for better. Better is what we have to strive for… not normal. Better.