If there is ever a COVID-19 outbreak, it could be deadly. In other words, Somaliland’s luck with COVID-19 might run out tomorrow if proper restrictions are not in place.
By Deqa Aden
On July 1st, I landed at Egal International Airport, in the capital of Hargeisa, Somaliland. Like my flight, the airport was not packed, though all of us passengers were wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. The airport staff were not.
Surprised, I wondered if they had forgotten the COVID-19 guidelines just for that day, as the staff were lenient with many of the guidelines. However, right before I entered the immigration office, two officers approached me to test my temperature. They also requested a valid COVID-19 test, as they were only letting visitors in who had tested negatively. This new policy relieved my anxious thoughts of moving back into a post-conflict state with a fragile healthcare system.
22 hours earlier, I had departed from Washington, D.C., my home for the last two years. From one capital to another, there were major differences in how the public handled the COVID-19 guidelines suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). I left the district right when it entered Phase Two of reopening on June 22nd. Unlike Somaliland, the district was also dealing with the Black Lives Matter Movement. There were large-scale protests everywhere, which indeed challenged the social distancing rule.
Although both cities did not maintain strict COVID-19 guidelines, their mortality rates are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. The current death toll of the United States is 180,000 while Somaliland’s — which includes all of Somalia — is less than 100. It seems that Somaliland got lucky with Covid-19 in terms of cases and mortality rate.
Somaliland confirmed its first case of COVID-19, brought by two foreign nationals, on March 31st. Because the healthcare system is very fragile, the Somaliland authorities launched public awareness campaigns, including distributing leaflets, to mitigate the crisis ahead. In major cities, residents used microphones to urge the public to carry on preventative actions, including proper handwashing. In addition, a government-backed tracking app was launched. The government also urged the public to avoid big gatherings and shut down mosques and schools.
Since Somaliland is not recognized internationally, receiving foreign aid from big institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO) poses a challenge. In fact, there is still no testing equipment in place for COVID-19. The only way to test someone is to send samples of the infected patient to neighboring Kenya to confirm whether the person has contracted the virus or not. This is an ongoing, long process that takes more than a couple of days. In addition, the local public hospital, Hargeisa Group Hospital, has one ventilator, making Somalilanders particularly vulnerable to suffering from COVID-19.
On June 30th — the day prior to my arrival back in Hargeisa — the Vice President of Somaliland announced via Twitter that the state was lifting some of the restrictions imposed to combat COVID-19. This explains why the airport staff were not maintaining social distancing.
More than a month later, there is little social distancing and no mask requirements in any public setting. Business and schools reopened on July 1st. It feels like COVID-19 never hit this state before. Even my own grandmother, who is an at-risk individual, leaves the house with no mask on. There have been a lot of reports of lockdowns easing in other countries, but I am worried that a resurgence of COVID-19 will come back to Somaliland.
As COVID-19 was sweeping across the world, overwhelming countries with robust healthcare systems, experts warned that Sub-Saharan African countries would be hit the hardest. With many vulnerable populations and varied access to adequate healthcare across the continent. Some predicted that the death toll on the African continent might be as high as four to five times the number in Wuhan. Somaliland hosts vulnerable populations including refugees from neighboring Yemen and Syria. If there is ever a COVID-19 outbreak, it could be deadly. In other words, Somaliland’s luck with Covid-19 might run out tomorrow if proper restrictions are not in place.
About the Author
Deqa Aden is a consultant at the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington DC where she is currently working under the Finance, Competitiveness, and Innovation (FCI) global practice group of the Bank. Her work focuses on investment in fragile, conflict, and violence (FCV)-affected states. She holds a deep passion for international development that is geared towards equitable growth, social enterprise, and private sector financing. In her free time, Deqa works on gender equity and impact-driven initiatives in the Horn of Africa.
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