Somalia is staring at another national lockdown as deaths resulting from COVID-19 related deaths continue to rise with the country’s fragile health system unable to manage the situation.
Health workers are presenting a grim picture in a country whose public medical system is on its knees due to corruption, lack of qualified staff and lack of essential medical equipment while the private sector cannot accommodate the rising cases.
Somalia health minister Dr Fawziya Abikar alluded that another lockdown may be coming as a means of managing the second wave of the pandemic that has ravaged the country.
“The first outbreak was managed largely thanks to a lockdown and closure of all schools and universities. We have again submitted and advised for these same restrictions and measures.
Regardless, we advise all parents not to send their children to school and follow the health guidelines,” the minister tweeted.
While there is no clear picture on when COVID-19 vaccine doses will arrive in Somalia, access to the greater population remains a challenge due to the security situation in the country that is constantly under the threat of attacks from terrorism groups led by the Al-Shaabab.
Fewer than 30,000 tests for the virus have been conducted in Somalia, a country of more than 15 million people, one of the lowest rates in the world.
Somalia’s virus infections jumped from 4,784 to 6,549 in February alone, according to official data. But unofficial reports indicate there are between 40-50 deaths daily due to the virus.
Experts are accusing the ministry of health of failing to implement three key elements in any disaster, including covid-19- mitigation, preparedness and response.
“Mitigation means reducing the risk of loss from the occurrence of any undesirable event. This is an important element for any responsible government to avoid unnecessary losses but Somali minister of health has refused to take the responsibility,” said a doctor who sought anonymity.
“Planning processes include stakeholder agreement on actions for risk reduction, assessment of relative risk and vulnerability, building partnerships among stakeholders, increasing awareness of hazards, vulnerabilities and risk, establishing priorities, hazard mapping and aligning risk reduction and mitigation strategies with other objectives,” he added.
The health ministry is also being accused of failing to provide required materials to medics and hospitals to help save lives.
“We do not have enough personal protection Equipment (PPEs), hospitals lack oxygen and medications and in some cases some staff lack the sufficient knowhow to handle serious cases,” observed a doctor adding that the country is ill prepared to handle disasters.
Dr. Abdirizak Yusuf Hirabeh, the government’s COVID-19 incident manager acknowledged that neither facilities nor equipment are adequate in Somalia to tackle the virus.
There are more gaps that need to be filled. Health workers are in short supply in Somalia. A report of a WHO mission in 2015 shows that the number and density of doctors, nurses, and midwives in the country are below 4 per 10,000 of the population.
The ministry is now surviving on donations from corporates while how the money from foreign partners has been used remains a mystery.
Several companies that produce Oxygen cylinders have suspended doing business with the ministry due to non-payment of their dues.
Hormud Telcom, Salaam Bank and Dahabshiil group recently donated 1000 oxygen cylinders but doctors say while this is appreciated, it is just a drop in the ocean.
“The ministry has received large sums of money from foreign partners to help fight the spread of the virus, but due to lack of accountability, we do not know what these funds have been used for.”
Mogadishu has only one Covid 19 isolation centre- the Martini Hospital which cannot sustain the increasing numbers and lacks key equipment to save lives.
“Due to the several cases of bomb blasts, the worst of which was in October 2017 when over 500 people were killed in a blast in Mogadishu and hundreds injured. Our hospitals could not accommodate the injured.
There was a recommendation from experts to the ministry of Health to build emergency hospitals or to enlarge emergency departments and to train reserve staff. This has not been done so far.”
Doctors are now recommending a change in the leadership of the ministry. The Auditor General and the Attorney General should investigate and hold the ministry accountable.