CORONAVIRUS

WHO wants more help for refugees during pandemic

Covid-19 has exacerbated existing humanitarian challenges.

In Summary
  • Long-running conflicts have made it difficult for people in sub-Saharan Africa to access health services.
  • UN is implementing the Global Humanitarian Response Plan for Covid-19 to fight the pandemic in countries facing humanitarian situations.
Children at Dadaab refugee camp in Garissa county on May 30, 2018.
Children at Dadaab refugee camp in Garissa county on May 30, 2018.
Image: REUTERS

The World Health Organization has urged African countries to provide greater access to Covid-19 detection, testing and care among refugees.

WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said Covid-19 has exacerbated existing humanitarian challenges, particularly with regards to access to health services in many African countries.


“With the pandemic, we have seen some humanitarian operations delayed due to lockdowns, curfews and the restrictions on movement for both personnel and cargo vital for Covid-19 response,” she said.

 
 

Moeti was speaking during a virtual conference on July 16 with Pierre Somse, Minister of Health and Population, Central African Republic; Patrick Youssef, Regional Director, Africa, International Committee of the Red Cross; and Adhieu Achuil Dhieu Kueth, a South Sudanese refugee from Dadaab.

It was noted that long-running conflicts in the region, such as the closure of health facilities and the flight of health workers, have made it difficult for people in sub-Saharan Africa to access health services.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to more than 26 per cent of the world’s refugees.

In Burkina Faso, for instance, 110 health facilities have been closed due to insecurity while services have been impaired in 186 others.

This has left around 1.5 million people without adequate healthcare.

In Mali’s central and northern regions, health services have been paralysed by persistent attacks.

In 2019, 18 attacks on health facilities were reported but this year only one health centre has been attacked.

 
As a result, the United Nations has activated health clusters in eight countries where the humanitarian situation requires support from the international community. They include Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Mali, Niger and South Sudan.
"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.”
WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti

 

 

 

Although information on Covid-19 transmission in humanitarian settings remains limited, about 1,800 Covid-19 cases have been reported in seven of these countries among the displaced, refugees, migrants or in areas affected by humanitarian crises.

According to WHO, due to the limited detection and testing capacity, the number is likely to be an underestimate.

The organisation has developed guidance on adapting Covid-19 mitigation in camp or camp-like settings, recommending health screenings for people arriving at collective sites and temporary isolation centres for suspected cases.

WHO has advised that activities such as food distribution or education be adjusted to limit mass gatherings and strengthen infection prevention and control.

“WHO urges the humanitarian community and member states to increase support to the millions of people in dire need of assistance in the region," Moeti said.

"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.”

Currently, WHO is working with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the UN Refugee Agency and other operational partners to raise awareness about Covid-19 among vulnerable populations.

The distribution of medical supplies and implements such as handwashing stations is also taking place.

Efforts are also underway to strengthen surveillance, train health workers, establish telehealth centres, and test and care for people who contract the disease.

The United Nations is implementing the Global Humanitarian Response Plan for Covid-19 to fight the pandemic in countries facing humanitarian situations.

The plan identifies ways to address the immediate health and non-health needs related to Covid-19 for the most vulnerable populations through health, water, sanitation, hygiene, food and agriculture, logistics, education and protection.

Of the 63 countries covered by the plan, 20 are in Africa.

Edited by Josephine M. Mayuya