In November 2019, flooding that caused more than 500,000 people to lose their homes hit Somalia. These floods also created the perfect conditions for the largest locust invasion in 25 years. The destruction of crops by locusts led to widespread hunger in Somalia. Then, in April 2020, the media’s attention turned away from locust invasions as the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic posed a far greater threat. With several compounded issues, the effects of COVID-19 in Somalia are harsh.
Healthcare in Somalia
According to the Global Health Security (GHS) Index, “Somalia ranks 194th out of 195” countries in terms of its health system capabilities. The GHS Index is “the first comprehensive” evaluation of the health security capabilities of “the 195 countries that make up the States Parties to the International Health Regulations.” The creators of the GHS Index, namely the John Hopkins Center for Health Security, the Nuclear Threat Initiative and The Economist Intelligence Unit, believe that the index will improve the international ability to handle “infectious disease outbreaks that can lead to international epidemics and pandemics.”
In numbers, Somalia employs only two healthcare workers per 100,000 citizens although the international standard is 25 healthcare workers per 100,000 people. For a nation of more than 15 million citizens, Somalia’s healthcare resources are minimal, with only 15 intensive care unit beds. As such, Somalia ranks “among the least prepared countries in the world to detect and report epidemics.”
Inadequate Testing and Reporting
Due to poor healthcare surveillance and reporting and as well as inadequate testing, it is difficult to gauge the full effects of COVID-19 in Somalia. As of May 2021, the country of 15 million people only administered 156,000 COVID-19 tests. Somalia’s Ministry of Health has officially reported more than 14,000 cases and more than 720 deaths as of May 2021. However, Mohamed Mohamud Ali Fuje, chief medical adviser of Somalia’s COVID-19 National Task Force tells The New Humanitarian that “the actual death toll is higher than the figures reported” because the country lacks documentation and adequate healthcare coverage.
In the predominantly Muslim nation of Somalia, most ill Somalians receive care within the confines of their homes. When a sickness leads to a fatality, the burial usually occurs “according to Islamic tradition within 24 hours.” These factors make tracing and reporting difficult. A United Nations healthcare worker employed in Kismayo, Somalia, told The New Humanitarian that even if a person with COVID-19 complications is able to get to a hospital, “there’s almost a zero chance of surviving” due to inadequate hospital equipment and a shortage of supplies and oxygen.
The Federal Government of Somalia has worked together with the World Health Organization (WHO) to gather vaccines for Somalis ever since a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine became available. About 12 months after Somalia’s first confirmed COVID-19 case, vaccine donations started coming in.
On March 15, 2021, Somalia received its first donation of 300,000 AstraZeneca vaccines from the COVAX Facility. Another delivery of 108,000 AstraZeneca vaccines arrived in Somalia on August 8, 2021, a donation from the Government of France through COVAX. Soon after, the United States gave 302,400 Johnson & Johnson vaccines to Somalia via COVAX. China also supported Somalia with a donation of 200,000 Sinopharm vaccines. As of September 12, 2021, Somalia administered 83% of the donated vaccines. Still, Somalia’s full vaccination rate stands at only 0.77% of the population at this point.
Aside from vaccine donations, Somalia is also receiving aid from the Ministry of Health and Human Services along with WHO and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to lessen the effects of COVID-19 in Somalia. In order to advance Somalia’s vaccine campaign, the organizations employed a number of strategies. In both Somaliland and Banadir, “special outreach teams of vaccinations” went to different areas. Trained community health workers educated Somalis on COVID-19 prevention measures and the advantages of receiving a COVID-19 vaccination. Health workers were also on the lookout for people with COVID-19 in order to provide them with sufficient aid and support.
Although Somalia faces “a triple threat” of flooding, an infestation of locusts and a global health pandemic, organizations and donors commit to assisting the nation. With continued support, the nation can successfully overcome the effects of COVID-19 in Somalia.
– Trystin Baker