Current State of COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa

With the growing impact of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) globally, there are heightened concerns about the fragile state of health and hygiene in Sub-Saharan Africa.

As of May 12, there are over 63,000 total confirmed cases in the African subcontinent and over 2300 deaths1; most cases are found in South Africa, Algeria, and Nigeria at this time. There are confirmed cases in each of our program countries, Benin, Togo, and Tanzania2. While case numbers are currently low, there are many speculations for why that is. It could be due to low testing rate and reporting, it could also be due to warmer temperatures (which affect the spread of similar viruses), it could be due to low levels of urbanization leading people to travel less frequently and therefore have fewer opportunities to come in contact with the virus3. Regardless of the reason, it is clear that with weaker health infrastructure and more limited access to hygiene and water resources that there is cause for concern as numbers continue to increase.

COVID-19 is also starting to affect an increasing number of healthcare workers, so far at least 1000 healthcare workers have been infected, two have been recorded in Benin and one in Tanzania4. There are concerns as this number increases, as the health infrastructure can be fragile and not adequately resourced. 

In attempts to slow the spread of the virus, some countries such as Tanzania have begun to take action by banning public gatherings. Togo is among other African nations that have made the decision to close schools and limit access to borders as a precautionary measure. However, many governments have yet to respond to the growing threat.

Potential Impact of COVID-19 in Sub-Saharan Africa
Due to limited access to health and hygiene knowledge and restricted health infrastructure, there is concern over the ability of current health resources to be able to support and provide adequate information and services to the population as confirmed cases of COVID-19 increase. Not only is the response a concern, but this will also divert resources from other important health resources. For example, studies found that during the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone that the decreased utilization of reproductive health services led to at least 3600 additional maternal, neonatal and stillbirth deaths in 2014-20155. Limited access to health services and supplies is a consistent concern throughout the region of Sub-Saharan Africa, and definitely in rural Benin, Togo and Tanzania where GAiN operates.

Misinformation in communities is another concern with regards to health information regarding COVID-19. Many rural communities lack basic health literacy and are not adequately connected to health services such as local clinics6. This also leads to communities not being properly informed or believing unhelpful myths. This was an issue in West Africa during the Ebola crisis, where people either did not initially believe or trust health officials and sought information and treatment from improper sources7. It is important that these same mistakes and patterns are not repeated and that communities are engaged with appropriate messaging from reliable sources, and that local leaders are utilised in these efforts.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, 75% of the population has either no access or limited access to handwashing facilities; 61% have access to safely managed or basic water resources, which is also essential to hygiene promotion8. These are concerning figures, especially as handwashing and hygiene promotion are the primary identified ways to prevent exposure to and prevent the spread of COVID-19. In a technical brief released by WHO and UNICEF there were a few pieces of important information highlighted, including frequent and proper hand hygiene, and continued safe management of drinking water and sanitation services. These two principles have many additional benefits to communities including preventing infectious diseases as a whole each year9.

How Handwashing and Hygiene Promotion is Helping Against COVID-19
The World Health Organization (WHO) has consistently said the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick is to wash your hands with clean water and soap or an alcohol-based rub. According to the Joint Monitoring Programme published in 2019, only 51% of health care facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa had alcohol-based hand rub at points of care and only 64% of non-hospital healthcare facilities had hand hygiene facilities.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UN Human Rights) released a statement on March 23, 2020 stating the COVID-19 will not be stopped without providing safe water to people living in vulnerability10. This statement highlights the need and importance of access to safe water, which is essential to the practice of handwashing, but also the potential harmful implications for communities and people for which access proves more challenging.

What GAiN is doing

For many years, GAiN has been working with rural communities and local health centres in Sub-Saharan Africa to provide clean water and train people on how to effectively manage their hygiene, including handwashing. These valuable resources and skills have developed the preparedness of rural communities to prevent the spread of harmful diseases. Since these WASH interventions, communities have been practicing good hygiene behaviours which has improved their health and hygiene, and has had a ripple effect in surrounding communities.

This work is especially important now, as many underserved rural communities need to be educated and equipped to prevent the spread of dangerous infectious diseases. GAiN works to drill deep-capped borehole wells to provide sustainable access to safe water, then community trainings are facilitated to teach proper hygiene and sanitation practices. This includes essential knowledge about infection prevention and control through germ transmission mapping and effective handwashing practices. These activities work to build community health resilience which enables people to prevent the spread of infectious diseases and withstand the impacts of them within their community.

GAiN’s COVID response so far

As part of GAiN’s COVID response, GAiN has partnered with rural clinics in Benin and Togo that are low on resources, so that they can be better equipped and prepared to handle an outbreak. GAiN had previously worked with these clinics for the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (MNCH) project in 2017 and 2018.

As of May 2020, GAiN has completed its first round of COVID response. Each clinic received five handwashing stations with soap and water, 100 masks, 100 pairs of gloves and sanitizer fluid.

Workers from clinics that received equipment reported that they felt a greater sense of security, as it helped reduce the risk of contamination for both workers and patients.

“This new equipment is going to serve us to protect all the clinic workers. We will also use the mask as protection to our patients and let everybody that is coming to the clinic to wash their hand properly before having access to the clinic,” Silete, a manager at one of the clinics, said.

Will you partner with us to help reveal hope and restore life through our COVID Response? Together, we can help communities slow the spread of the virus and help empower their communities with knowledge on how to stay safe. 

Nutbeam, Don (2000). “Health literacy as a public health goal: a challenge for contemporary health education and communication strategies into the 21st strategy.” Health Promotion International 15(3), 259-267
WHO and Unicef (2020). “Water, sanitation, hygiene and waste management for the COVID-19 virus.” Technical Brief.

Thank you for keeping Global Aid Network (GAiN) in your prayers. You have been on our minds and hearts, and we continue to pray for those of you who are experiencing a challenging and stressful time. COVID-19 has changed the lives of people across the world, leaving many of us to deal with an evolving new normal and an uncertainty about the future. It is in times like these that we remember we are not alone and that we are all in this together.

“The COVID-19 virus knows no borders. This has been a wake-up call for the world to stand in solidarity and work together. If there was ever a time for countries and governments to support one another and invest in health globally, it is right now.” – Karina Gould, Minister of International Development for Global Affairs Canada.

GAiN is responding. Our deep desire and commitment is to continue revealing hope and restoring life to people living in crisis and injustice, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. The virus has now reached every one of the nine countries that we work in, affecting all of our projects in varying degrees. Although we have temporarily paused our normal project activities, mostly due to government restrictions and in order to mitigate risks in an ever-changing environment, our field teams have completed their early response assessments. Will you partner with us as we prepare our teams to respond?


As every project faces constraints with COVID-19, each country has its own urgent and unique need and we are responding in the following four ways that will continue to connect people, especially women and children who are among some of the most vulnerable, with resources that provide hope, faith and life.


“The provision of safe water, sanitation and hygienic conditions is essential to protecting human health during all infectious disease outbreaks, including the COVID-19 outbreak,” states the World Health Organization. As a result, our Water for Life Initiative teams in Benin, Togo and Tanzania are:

  • engaging with public health experts and local governments to complement country strategies
  • pivoting our community strategy to COVID-19 prevention by supplying handwashing stations and soaps and community health promotion
  • supporting local, village-level clinics with protective equipment (gloves, masks and sanitizers) and handwashing stations
  • engaging local pastors and their churches in disease prevention and health promotion in their surrounding communities on hygiene principles


The women entrepreneurs we support through our microfinance project in Paraguay are struggling to provide for their families. With a country-wide ban on public gatherings, they are unable to meet with their trust groups. To continue to support these women’s businesses and help empower them to make informed decisions, Diaconia, GAiN’s in-country partner, is developing a vocational training course on how to make cleaning products, as well as a video course on financial literacy during a crisis, which will be released on Facebook and Whatsapp. They’re also developing a crisis management module to train their trust group chaplains on dealing with trauma and loss.


The children GAiN supports in both Pandita Ramabai Mukti Mission in India and GAiN Upendo Center in Tanzania are under lockdown. Now that university students and vocational young adults were required to return to their campus, resources are stretched. Both Mukti and Upendo have some capacity to continue farming activities but food scarcity is a grave concern.

In response to several desperate requests, GAiN’s partner, Jesus Responde in Paraguay is preparing a minimum of 10,000 food packages made of soup mix and donated products for immediate distribution. Local church partners will deliver these packages on an as-needed basis, bringing hope right to the doors of those who are hungry.

Syria, with many at-risk families dependent on our Bags of Blessing program (food and non-food items), has banned public gatherings due to the ongoing pandemic. Our  church partner has prepared 500 bags (initially) for door-to-door distribution to respond to immediate essential needs. In response to COVID-19, GAiN and the local church will start preparing and distributing Clean Bags (containing the basic cleaning and disinfecting supplies) as an awareness and prevention initiative.


In coordination with our global GAiN offices, we are sending an emergency COVID-19 disaster response team to Lesbos, Greece to respond to the evolving crisis at Camp Moria. Home to 20,000 refugees fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, this refugee camp was only built for 3,000. Resources to support the refugees were already stretched and now it’s even harder to continue to provide much-needed care and support. Teams will distribute critical items such as hygiene sanitation goods, baby food, diapers, clothing and sleeping bags as well as set up a warehouse nearby so that emergency supplies are easily accessible.

God continues to move through His church and we are inspired by believers who are compelled to respond practically and are passionate about sharing the hope of Jesus to those living in despair, anxiety and fear. The spread of COVID-19 across the world has shown that we are all connected beyond borders, and that our decisions and actions in one country can have a significant impact in other countries. It’s how we respond as Christians to this global crisis, with love, courage and selflessness, that sets us apart.

This crisis has put us in a position to share the love of God with people all over the world. During this time of unprecedented global adversity, you can help make a difference in countries that may not be as equipped to deal with the virus and its impending consequences.

Together, when we reach out with care as well as address both the immediate and tangible needs, we help those impacted by this crisis discover the peace that only Jesus can bring.


Will you stand with us and help our local teams respond with compassionate activity and the transforming power of Jesus Christ?

In Christ’s love,

Ray Sawatsky
CEO – Global Aid Network (GAiN)

P.S. BE SURE NOT TO MISS THIS! Our front line leaders are appearing in the upcoming Online Speaker Series to personally update you on GAiN’s Covid-19 response. Click here to receive more information.

Undoubtedly, this is one of many emails you have received this week regarding the spread of the coronavirus and the corresponding COVID-19 respiratory disease. We appreciate your prayers and support for Global Aid Network (GAiN) as we continue to step forward daily into the unknown. In all the uncertainty, we are leaning on Jesus and His word.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

At GAiN, we are focusing on James 1 and the challenge of considering it is pure joy to find ourselves in difficult times. Reflecting on the words of Jesus’ brother, this season is meant for us to lift up our fears and anxieties fully to the Lord, for it is our Saviour that carries our cares and burdens. We are to take comfort in knowing that through Christ we receive the strength necessary to persevere through trials, and perseverance must finish its work so that we can be mature and complete, NOT lacking anything.

So we are asking for your prayers too as we pray for wisdom, not only for ourselves but for all the work and people of GAiN that serve in Benin, Togo, Tanzania, Syria, India, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Paraguay and Thailand.

As we make difficult decisions in response to the world situation, I endeavour to reflect to you the truth of 2 Timothy 1:7, where the author reminds us that “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

While governments in almost all of the countries we work in have placed regulations on ministry activity, such as no public gatherings, we have also made the difficult decision to temporarily halt our international operations. Our heart is to continue to support our domestic and international staff financially through this time, so that they are safe, actively preventing the spread of the virus, and available to minister to their families, communities and churches as the coronavirus is present in each of the countries where GAiN has projects. We will be asking our international teams (120 people worldwide) to be in prayer and ready to respond to the need, country by country, as the situation evolves in the days and weeks to come, so they can be ready for the restarting of activity when appropriate.

We stand with our donors, our staff, our friends and people of the countries we serve in the face of this global crisis that affects us all. We stand in solidarity with our whole community and are ready for God to call us to what is next.

We know many of you have given financially for specific projects from water wells to humanitarian aid to evangelism activities. Thank you! We will continue to fulfill our commitments to you in the coming months.

Our priority at this moment is to make sure our staff are; first and foremost cared for and second, ready to respond as God leads us to respond to unique situations as it unfolds in the countries we are called to work in. In order to press into the unknown, we can trust in an all-knowing God who has promised to be with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:9).

This is not an appeal for funds, however, if you wish to join us in supporting our teams to stay ready to respond we would be grateful in this time of uncertainty.


We are together in this and want to encourage you to love others by taking wise steps to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. To ensure the protocols set by federal and provincial governments are being practiced, our head office has been working remotely from their homes as of Monday. For those staff that come into the office or need to leave their homes, we have encouraged them to practice social distancing and proper hand washing techniques.

Many of us will need to self-isolate at some point and we encourage you to build community in whatever ways you can. Next week, we want to invite all of you to join our weekly prayer and worship time because as Proverbs reminds us “an anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up.” (Proverbs 12:25). This will be a time for a devotion led by a GAiN staff member and a time of corporate prayer. If you would like to be put on the invite list to join us for prayer and community each Wednesday morning at 10:00 am PST, please click the link below, fill out the form and we will send you the connection details.


Let me close by reminding you that we desire to journey with you! If you would like to speak with someone from GAiN or would like someone to pray with you, please email us at and one of our staff will get back to you within 24 hours.

Please join me in prayer without ceasing for these extraordinary times.

Ray Sawatsky
CEO & Executive Director
Global Aid Network (GAiN)

Earlier this week, WHO declared COVD-19 a pandemic. We recognize that we are living in a time of anxiety and stress, and wanted to provide an update on our current operations and response to the situation.

How does this affect GAiN?

The Government of Canada recently advised Canadians to avoid all non-essential international travel. As an organization that works globally, this affects GAiN in many ways.

We would like to assure you that as of now, we are still operating and our work in the field is continuing as usual.

LIFE Team updates
Our utmost priority is the health and safety of our volunteers and staff. In light of the most recent travel advisory and because of the uncertainty related to travel, we have made the decision to cancel our May Paraguay LIFE Team, operated in partnership with Power to Change Students.

The status of our August LIFE Team to India is currently on a wait-and-see status. As we continue to monitor all government recommendations related to travel, we will make a decision closer to the application deadline (June 15).

Are we doing anything in the field?
Our work in Togo, Benin and Tanzania, has involved hygiene and sanitation trainings, long before COVID-19. Having worked with many rural communities and local health centres, we know the impact that knowledge, education and proper implementation of hygiene and sanitation can have on a community.

For our in-country teams, we are actively monitoring the situation and are preparing a plan in the event that drilling operations need to be shut down and teams need to be pulled from villages.

“Our international teams have been updated on information specific to COVID-19 and supported to practice frequent handwashing, social distancing as needed, and recognition of respiratory symptoms requiring medical attention,” says Joel Bond, Maternal, Newborn & Child Health Project Coordinator for GAiN, and RN. “Information has been changing on a daily basis so we are monitoring the situation closely and will continue communication with our country managers.”

And as usual, our teams are continuing work in villages to promote proper handwashing.

As of March 13, there has been one reported case of COVID-19 in Togo. So far, the situation seems to be under control and national health authorities are emphasizing the importance of good hygiene (specifically handwashing) practices to the people of Togo.

We are also in contact with our partner in Syria, as the Syrian government has just declared that it is closing everything down until April.

As a result, the church in Damascus has cancelled all meetings. The church is currently in an emergency situation. At the moment, we are doing our best to figure out how to handle the thousands of people who are attending and visiting the church.

Ways you can help

We are continuing to monitor the news and keep updated on the situation as things are constantly changing. While this can feel like a time of great uncertainty, we wanted to share our response to the situation.

At GAiN, our mission is to reveal hope and restore life to people living in crisis and injustice. We hope to continue to demonstrate the love of God in practical ways, not just overseas but also in our own communities. Here are some of the ways that we can do this at this time:

1) Prioritize the health and safety of yourselves and others.

We believe that as responsible citizens, we should prioritize limiting the spread of the disease. Continue to wash hands properly and avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes. Keep at least one metre distance between yourself and people who may be sick.

Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Either sneeze or cough into a tissue or your elbow.

If you’re feeling symptoms of COVID-19, (, stay at home and isolate as quickly as possible.

2) Be a light in your community.

In this time of anxiety and fear, people need encouragement now, more than ever. Although we may have to limit social gatherings, it’s important to continue to care for one another as best as possible. This could mean calling to check in on someone who may be lonely or afraid. Be open to listening to one another and offer to pray for each other.

“A new command I give to you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” -John 13:34 (NIV)

Part of being responsible citizens is avoiding panic buying and hoarding. This can leave people who live day-to-day without the necessities.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, of love, and self-discipline.” – 2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)

It’s also good to be aware of false information that may circulate online and be careful not to spread it. Be sure to get accurate information and news from credible sources.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” – John 14:27 (NIV)