WHO urges greater COVID-19 health services in Africa’s humanitarian settings

WHO urges greater COVID-19 health services in Africa’s humanitarian settings
16 July 2020
Brazzaville – The World Health Organization (WHO) today called for greater access to COVID-19 detection, testing and care among vulnerable populations grappling with the impacts of protracted conflict and humanitarian emergencies across Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to over 26% of the world’s refugees. Long-running conflicts in regions like the Sahel have led to the closure of health facilities and the flight of health workers. In Burkina Faso, 110 health facilities have been closed due to insecurity while services have been impaired in 186 others, leaving around 1.5 million people without adequate health care. In Mali’s central and northern regions, health services have been paralysed by persistent attacks. In 2019 alone, 18 attacks on health facilities were reported. So far this year, one health centre has been attacked.

“COVID-19 has exacerbated existing humanitarian challenges, particularly with regards to access to health services in many countries in the region,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “With the pandemic, we have seen some humanitarian operations delayed due to lockdowns, curfews and the restrictions of movement for both personnel and cargo vital for COVID-19 response.”

Crowded settings such as displacement camps can heighten the risk of COVID-19 transmission due to difficult access to clean water, leading to inadequate hygiene, and where physical distancing is almost impossible.

The United Nations system has activated health clusters in eight countries where the humanitarian situation requires support from the international community, including Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger and South Sudan. Although information on COVID-19 transmission in humanitarian settings remains limited so far, about 1800 COVID-19 cases have been reported in seven of these countries among the displaced, refugees, migrants or in areas affected by humanitarian crises. Due to the limited detection and testing capacity, the number is likely to be an under-estimate.

“WHO urges the humanitarian community and Member States to increase support to the millions of people in dire need of assistance in the region. If we don’t step up health services, including testing, tracing, isolation and care for people already living in precarious settings and displacement camps, COVID-19 could spark untold tragedy,” said Dr Moeti…