Nurse in Somalia washing hands and practicing good hygiene

Somalia: preparing for the coronavirus pandemic

How will the East African’s country’s already weakened healthcare system cope with the spread of COVID-19?

By Action Against Hunger

Apr 16 2020

With coronavirus putting a huge strain on some of the strongest health care systems around the world, the implications for countries with weaker infrastructures could be catastrophic.

Somalia, a country that is still dealing with the devastating effects of the recent drought, floods, locust infestation and conflict, is preparing for the worst. The threat of the disease is spreading rapidly in the country, with vulnerable communities most at risk.

Somalia’s healthcare facilities and social distancing

The United Nations recently reported that there are more than 2.6 million people internally displaced in Somalia. In and around the capital Mogadishu, tens of thousands of families are living in settlement camps where social distancing is almost impossible.

“How do you expect people to practice social distancing in a camp where every makeshift house is close to each other,” says Zahra Ali Mohamed, who lives in one of the camps. “We share communal toilets and common gathering areas? It’s impossible.”

There are already fears of the virus spreading within the camps. “It’s going to be a very difficult time,” continued Zahra. “There are poor hygiene practices in the camps due to overcrowding and lack of sufficient amenities and resources.”

aerial view of camps in Somalia

The coronavirus will put hospitals and healthcare facilities in Somalia under immense pressure. “Somalia’s health system is ill-equipped to manage an increasing burden,” says Ahmed Khalif, Country Director for Action Against Hunger in Somalia.

So far, Somalia has seven confirmed cases of coronavirus.  The number of cases in Somalia and in the whole of Africa is expected to increase rapidly. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has already predicted that by June, African countries will have 10,000 cases of the virus.

Action Against Hunger’s response in Somalia 

Our team in Somalia is already working with various stakeholders, including the Ministry of Health, health facilities, and vulnerable communities, as part of our prevention plan in the country. “We are closely coordinating with Ministry of Health’s taskforce on COVID-19 to support the implementation of the national response plans,” Khalif continues.

For over a year, we have led the Somali Health and Nutrition (SHINE) Programme, to help support Somalia’s health authorities and strengthen healthcare services in Mogadishu. The project focusses on mothers and children, providing immunisation, medical services and nutrition treatment for severely malnourished children. It also provides training to healthcare staff, who are now preparing for coronavirus.

“The threat is high in Somalia as in bordering countries. Ethiopia and Kenya are confirming an increasing number of cases,” says Hussein Isse, Technical Lead for the SHINE Programme. “Our health system is not well designed to respond sufficiently to the pandemic if it gets to community level.”

We’re working with health facilities to introduce new social distancing measures, separating crowds of mothers seeking services and waiting with their children.

“We now have mothers sit apart in twos on the benches in the waiting area instead of the normal four-person seating arrangement,” says Hawo Ibrahim, the District Health Officer at Waaberi Health Centre in Mogadishu.

Mothers in Somalia practicing social distancing while they wait for hospital appointments

We’re working closely with the Ministry of Health and other partners to ensure vital information on preventative measures, such as handwashing, is being communicated to vulnerable communities. Our teams are spreading the message through radio announcements, educational leaflets, banners, and even text messages.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) is in high demand across the globe. Despite the price for this equipment quadrupling in recent weeks, we’re making sure key health centres are fully stocked with face masks and gloves. We’re also providing healthcare facilities with soap and installing handwashing stations.

 “We continue to support rapid training of healthcare workers, reinforcement of health systems, and advocacy for fair distribution of medical supplies, such as personal protection equipment,” explains Country Director Ahmed Khalif. “With support from the European Union’s humanitarian aid agency ECHO, we are on the frontlines fulfilling and implementing the priorities identified in Somalia’s national COVID-19 response plan.” 

We’re committed to addressing and responding to this pandemic in the countries where we work. Our local staff are already in refugee camps and in some of the hardest to reach areas, making sure that children and their families have access to the food, water and sanitation they need to survive. 

We need to respond to this crisis together, as a global community.

Children washing hands to fight disease
Children washing hands to fight disease

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Photos: Fardosa Hussein/Action Against Hunger