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“Making people believe COVID-19 exists a major challenge”: Spanish Nun Serving in Cameroon

Sr Ana Gutierrez, a Spanish Nun serving at the Bikok Catholic Health Centre on the outskirts of Cameroon's capital Yaounde.

A Spanish nun serving as a doctor in the Central African nation of Cameroon says the major challenge she is facing at the present time is making residents believe that COVID-19 is a real pandemic.

“The big challenge is above all to make people aware that Covid-19 exists because here, many people think that it is a Whiteman’s invention and that only concerns western countries,” Sr. Ana Gutierrez of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus told Vatican News in an interview.

Sr. Ana who works for the Bikok Catholic Health Centre on the outskirts of Cameroon’s capital Yaounde said that her Religious Order has put in place sensitization teams that educate the population on the global pandemic.

“We have set up groups to go into the villages, to have meetings with the different customary chiefs and to sensitize on the pandemic,” she said.

According to her, through these efforts and given the trust people have in members of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart, there is a gradual acceptance that that the new coronavirus is real.

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“Our congregation has been present here for 104 years and people, in general, trust us,” Sr. Ana said.

“This means that our mission as religious sisters, as missionaries, is evangelization which goes hand in hand with development and the fight against the misfortunes that prevent the good health of the population,” the Spanish-born nun added.

Cameroon's COVID-19 statistics as of May 5 stood at 2,077 cases with 953 recoveries and 64 deaths. The country remains the hardest hit in the Central African region, according to a report.

The government has announced relief measures taken to mitigate the economic shock provoked by the measures put in place to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

While places of worship have remained closed, bars and restaurants can now open; taxi and transport agencies have continued their normal operations, amongst other accompanying measures taken by the government April 30.

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According to the Spanish nun, since the first case was confirmed in Cameroon on March 6, focus has been on protection and preventive measures.

“For the moment, we have a 27-member staff and every day we work with masks and wear gloves,” she said and continued, “When we finish work, we take a shower, change clothes and then wash them at 60 degrees for 30 minutes.

Even though no cases have been detected at the Catholic Health Centre, Sr. Ana says “they have intensified protective measures for the personnel of the hospital and for patients.”

“We have put at the entrance of the hospital, mandatory hand washing and taking the temperature of all patients who arrive to detect those with fever,” the nun said and added, “handwashing and the wearing of masks is obligatory for all our patients."

She further said, “Once those with fever are detected, they are given priority, either for consultation or for examination.”

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 “The staff of the hospital also work with masks, gloves that are changed every time it is necessary, as well as the hydro-alcohol gel that is present in all consultation rooms,” she said adding that “in laboratories, all the staff work with the necessary protective equipment.”

Speaking about the lockdowns in some African countries as a means to curb the spread of the disease, she said the measure is “almost impossible” on the continent because many people struggle to survive in the difficult economy.

“People have to go out to feed themselves. Even with public transportation, it's hard to stop the population,” she said.

Sr. Ana also says confinement during this period of the disease has been for her “a time of grace.”

“For me, it is a great moment of spiritual renewal by doing some spiritual readings more calmly, so I have a lot of time to do that,” she said.

She also expressed her gratitude for the efforts of the Church and the faithful during this period saying, “I would like to appreciate the work that the Catholic Church is doing during this time to help fight the pandemic. I believe that it is a great movement of the Church that is developing, in solidarity with all the victims of the coronavirus.”

“I also thank all the faithful for the spiritual support they have given to one another. This makes universal communion and fraternity felt at this time,” she said.