Just last month in February 2020, most Italians did not take COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the highly infectious new coronavirus, seriously. By April 13th Italy’s reported a total of 20,465 deaths from 159,516 infections with 3,153 new cases reported (Bloomberg). The problem was, according to the Head of the Infectious Disease Unit at Sacco Hospital in Milan, Massimo Galli, “as the emergency situation rapidly deteriorated over the past month, Italy focused its testing only on people showing severe symptoms in areas with high epidemic intensity.” This made it difficult to contain the spread of the virus.
Looking at these upsetting trends in a country with one of the most advanced health care systems in the world, should send alarm bell to Somalia—a country with poor health systems and largely affected by multiple crises. With three confirmed cases and several others still under investigation, I expected the whole country to be in panic and taking every precaution. Unfortunately, that is not the case and this scares me.
A combination of conflict, insecurity, mass displacement, recurrent droughts, flooding, and extreme poverty, coupled with very low basic social services coverage, has significantly increased people’s vulnerabilities including diseases like pneumonia and malnutrition. Somalia has one of the highest under-five mortality rates in the world—of 137 per 1,000 live births, currently the third-worst in the world after Angola and Chad. One in seven Somali children die before their fifth birthday. Coverage of childhood vaccines remains low in Somalia, with an estimated coverage for measles and DPT3 of well under 50% in 2014. Pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines have not been introduced by the public health system and Pneumonia continues to claims the lives of many Somali children. For instance, in 2015, Pneumonia claimed the lives of at least 14,561 children– more than two children every hour. Somalia’s healthcare system makes a worst-case scenario more probable for any new respiratory infection, ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), as well as the recently discovered COVID-19.
The good news is that the Government of Somalia seems to have learned some lessons from affected countries and has developed a comprehensive response strategy, including the establishment of national COVID-19 response committee and the formation of an incident management system and continue to the drive response plan with other partners. In addition, they suspended international flights in some parts, closed schools and universities and evoked restrictions on mass gatherings and promote social distancing. However, some of these critical measures to contain the spread at community levels are yet to be effected. For instance, there is limited control taking place at our boarder points due to government limited capacity to control movements our very porous borders. This may lead to some people mostly Diaspora who are fleeing from Covid19 in affected areas to come to neighboring countries and cross the border.
More importantly, communities across the country lack information or are not taking it seriously and continue to put themselves and other people at risk. Somali’s ways of socializing in large groups and extensive physical contacts coupled with lack of WASH facilities, water scarcity, shortage of health personnel and personal protective materials and other supplies needed for people to protect themselves, increases risks and will make it difficult to contain and manage the spread of the virus.
Although Somalia has received its share of testing kits, masks and protective suits to fight the COVID-19 as part of the Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation medical aid to Africa, the support will fall short to address the needs on the ground if the disease spreads widely among the 12 million people living in Somalia.
I’m also aware that a number of national and international partners are working hand in hand with the government to prepare and put in place measures to monitor and contain the spread of the virus. For instance Save the Children has initiated a massive campaign to raise awareness, educating people on how best to protect themselves from contracting the virus. The organization is also supporting the Ministry of Health to scale up their prevention measures, in communities. However much more needs to be done to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on families in Somalia. National and international CSOs, UN agencies, as well as, community-based organizations must continue to work together to ensure educate people and encourage them to adhere to prevention measures and contain the spread.
At this unprecedent time, Somalia needs global support to combat this pandemic in form of resources and expertise. At the national level the government needs to strengthen and tighten mitigation measures including managing its boarders, enforcing curfews, implementing social distancing measures. In addition, there is a need to minimize local movements, challenge socialization practices across the country. The government must encourage and motivate private sectors to produce materials such as masks and other protective gears to support families protect themselves More importantly, there is a need to give special consideration to the Internal Displaced populations who require more than just prevention measures—they need live support to survive this pandemic. For my fellow Somalis, let us learn from Italy. The three cases confirmed so far should be a wakeup call for all of us. We must adhere to expert advice and government directives so that we can survive this pandemic.
PS: The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent Saxafi Media’s point of views/position.