Covid-19 Affects Refugee CampsCOVID-19 has had a significant impact on countries all over the world but developing countries have been most severely impacted. Many developing nations are under strain due to a lack of resources and inadequate infrastructure. Developing countries like Mauritania also house significantly vulnerable groups such as refugees. COVID-19 affects refugee camps in Mauritania especially hard.

The Mbera Camp

The Mbera camp is located 40km from Mauritania’s southern border shared with Mali. The Mbera camp first formed to house Malian refugees who fled the conflict in Mali. The camp is home to more than 50,000 Malian refugees. It is now one of the only camps in Mauritania that offers shelter and education for its refugees. Roughly 58% of the refugees in the Mbera camp are children.

COVID-19 affects refugee camps particularly harshly. Refugee camps are vulnerable to COVID-19 because they are overcrowded, densely populated and lack sufficient access to water, sanitation and health services. For more than 50,000 people in the Mbera camp, there is only one health center and four health posts. When 94% of the population rely on these facilities as their primary source of healthcare, it becomes overburdened when multiple people fall ill at once. This means at least 20% of households may be unable to access treatment because the health centers lack capacity to accommodate everyone or because the centers are a long distance away.

An Impacted Economy

In March 2020, the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) established a crisis committee in order to manage communications and mobilization simultaneously. The committee ensures that refugees have access to as much information as possible regarding COVID-19 risks in the community. A survey evaluated how COVID-19 affects refugees in the camp. It showed that 100% of those surveyed knew about COVID-19 and its risks. Additionally, 62% could not afford the hygiene items necessary for preventative measures. As with many countries, the economic impact in Mauritania has been harsh. Roughly 75% of respondents reported that COVID-19 negatively impacted their livelihoods.

To address these issues, the UNHCR introduced a Cash for Social Protection plan that benefited more than 1,000 households within the Mbera camp.

The UNHCR’s Plan

Since the start of COVID-19, the UNHCR has supported the Mauritanian Government’s COVID-19 Response Plan. The Government’s response includes refugees and national health structures treat COVID-19 refugee patients. The NGO, Alima, along with the UNHCR and the WHO, trained 32 young volunteers to participate in the COVID-19 community surveillance system. On 15 September 2020, the UNHCR promised to provide free primary healthcare services in the Mbera camp for all refugees until the close of the year.

Part of the UNHCR’s comprehensive COVID-19 response includes 46 quarantine units at the borders as well as four isolation points. Ongoing awareness initiatives in the Mbera camp ensure that refugees are educated about COVID-19. The UNHCR has also distributed protective personal equipment to the four health structures of Mbera camp and the border points. The organization has also established a contact tracing system and a COVID-19 data collection system. Furthermore, the UNHCR has provided the necessary medication, equipment and medical transportation to support the COVID-19 response in Mbera camp.

By supporting an effective COVID-19 response in Mauritania, and in Mbera camp specifically, the UNHCR ensures that vulnerable populations are not overlooked during a global health pandemic. In order for the global COVID-19 response to be successful, minority and marginalized groups must be prioritized.

Seren Dere
Photo: Flickr

Healthcare in Central African RepublicViolent conflict that has surged since 2007 in the Central African Republic (CAR) has created challenges for the nation’s healthcare system. Humanitarian organizations, which provide the majority of the health services available, have continued working to provide adequate healthcare despite threats of violence from militia groups.

Providing Healthcare Amid Conflict

The CAR is facing a humanitarian emergency. Even after the introduction of a peace agreement among the 14 armed groups in the country in 2019, attacks against civilians and humanitarian workers persist. It is estimated that out of more than 4.6 million people living in the CAR, 2.9 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. NGOs have not stopped attempting to provide services to those displaced and hurting from the violence.

There are inadequate numbers of trained health workers in the CAR, as reported by the World Health Organization. Therefore, it has become a primary concern to increase the number of healthcare providers. This year, in addition to providing water, sanitation and hygiene assistance, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has begun training 500 individuals to respond to the protection and healthcare needs of vulnerable communities in the CAR.

After the conflict damaged or destroyed 34% of the CAR’s healthcare infrastructure, NGOs are focused on supporting the remaining hospitals and clinics. ALIMA, an NGO committed to providing quality healthcare services to those in need, has been working in the CAR since 2013. They have provided nutritional and medical care in the Bimbo and Boda health districts and outside the nation’s capital of Bangui. Pregnant women and children under the age of five have received free healthcare through ALIMA. Just in 2016, the organization carried out more than 17,320 prenatal consultations and treated close to 75,000 children for malaria.

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) began its involvement in CAR in 2006. The health services provided by this organization target the mental health consequences of gender-based violence. Psychosocial support to women survivors of violence has remained a priority. The IRC also implemented discussion groups aimed to expand gender-based violence awareness and share strategies for prevention.

Combating Infectious Disease

Malaria, HIV and tuberculosis are a few of the prominent diseases that require intense prevention and treatment in the CAR. Doctors Without Borders has been one of the principal actors in delivering these services, treating nearly 547,000 malaria cases in 2018. The organization generated community-based groups in multiple cities to pick up antiretroviral medications needed to treat HIV, while also working to decentralize HIV and AIDS treatment in the city of Carnot. UNICEF has given additional HIV screening to pregnant women during prenatal consultations, and those who tested positive were promptly placed on antiretroviral treatment.

On Jan. 24, 2020, the Ministry of Health declared there to be a measles epidemic in the CAR; cases had been on the rise since the previous year. Between January 2019 and February 2020, there were 7,626 suspected measles cases. A significant public health response has begun to target the spread, including the development of vaccination campaigns, an increase in epidemiological surveillance and the distribution of free medical supplies.

CAR has been impacted by the current coronavirus pandemic, as the country has recorded nearly 4,000 cases as of July 3. UNICEF and partners have been able to provide free essential care, sanitation services and psychological support.

The Need for Humanitarian Assistance

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is a major contributor to humanitarian aid in the CAR. It was with the financial assistance of USAID in the 2019 fiscal year that the IRC and the NRC were able to provide healthcare resources for risk prevention. The preservation of humanitarian funding to the CAR has proven to be crucial, as conflict has further weakened the healthcare system.

Humanitarian organizations have made significant progress in recent years to combat the spread of infectious disease and provide more widespread healthcare in the Central African Republic. There is a need to expand these efforts and improve quality of life during the nation’s continued fight for peace.

Ilana Issula
Photo: Flickr