Op-Ed by Ambassador Gonzales on the Global COVID-19 Outbreak

Originally published in the Sunday Express newspaper, March 29, 2020

Due to the recent outbreak of coronavirus, the entire world is experiencing an unprecedented crisis, virtually at the same time. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can range from the common cold to more severe diseases. This current outbreak is referred to as COVID-19, as it is a new strain discovered in 2019 that was not previously identified in humans.

Currently, there is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. Therefore, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus.  The virus is thought to spread mainly from person to person – i.e. between people who are in close contact with one another (and/or through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

In this difficult time where our entire global community is affected by COVID-19, we must all take collective and coordinated action to combat this pandemic. You can reduce your chances of being infected or spreading COVID-19 by complying with the lockdown measures instituted by the Government of Lesotho and taking some simple precautions:

  • Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water. Washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.
  • Practice social distancing – that means you maintain at least 1 meter (3 feet) distance between yourself and others, especially anyone who is coughing or sneezing.  When someone coughs or sneezes they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease.
  • Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.  Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.
  • Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately. Droplets spread virus. By following good respiratory hygiene you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu and COVID-19.
  • Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance.

For people living with HIV, it is especially important for you to follow these precautions, while also continuing on your anti-retroviral treatment. ARVs alone do not protect from the COVID-19 virus, but adhering to treatment is the best way to keep your viral load suppressed and help you stay healthy. People who are not HIV positive should not use ARVs both because it is not a treatment for COVID-19 and because our brothers and sisters who are HIV positive need those medications to stay healthy.

This information comes from the World Health Organization. You can find out more at https://www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus.

In some cases, individuals who traveled through higher-risk areas or suspect they may have been exposed will need to self-quarantine and stay at home. Even though I had no symptoms, I spent the previous two weeks in self-quarantine after returning to Maseru from abroad, as recommended by the governments of Lesotho and the United States. Going forward, my team and I will comply the lockdown measures that go into effect today across the country.

Let me be clear, this disease does not recognize borders.  It is not confined to one region, one nationality or one age group. As the World Health Organization stated on March 23,2020, although older people are the hardest hit, younger people are not spared.  Data from many countries clearly show that people under 50 make up a significant proportion of patients requiring hospitalization.  Young people need to heed the measures as well and help stop the spread, by making choices to stay home and comply with social distancing measures. This could be the difference between life and death for someone else. Simply put, we must all work together to stop the spread.

The U.S. government is taking extraordinary steps to help prevent the spread of the disease around the world. Since February 7, the U.S. government announced $100 million (1.7 billion Maloti) from USAID’s Emergency Reserve Fund to address the COVID-19 pandemic. These funds will be used for critical interventions in developing countries affected or at high-risk for the COVID-19 outbreak. The United States is the global leader in public health assistance with $9.5 billion (more than 161 billion Maloti) appropriated in 2019 to support international public health and more than $100 billion (1.7 trillion Maloti) committed over the last 20 years to support public health on the African continent.

Basotho and Americans have been working together for more than a decade to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this country. So we have a proven record of close collaboration that will help us navigate this new global challenge and emerge as even stronger partners.

Since I learned it when I came to the Mountain Kingdom back in early 2018 and began my tour of the ten districts, my favorite saying in Sesotho has long been Motho ke Motho ka Batho –  We are who we are because of other people. Even though for a period of time we have to stay home and maintain stringent social distancing measures to keep each other safe, that saying remains true.  This is our chance now to take critical and coordinated action to protect those who have made us who we are. My team at the U.S. Embassy and I are putting this action into practice, conducting our business as much as possible remotely or via telephone. We all need to join this effort immediately. Because now, as Americans and Basotho stand together in this time of crisis, I have another saying Letšoele le Beta poho – United We Stand!

Friends, I encourage you to stay informed and to follow recommendations from health professionals to protect yourself and those around you. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this pandemic. I am also confident that by working together, our global community will triumph over this disease.

So I urge all readers, let’s stay home, stop the spread, and stay alive, and united we will stand.. Letšoele le Beta Poho.

Khotso, Pula, Nala.