MOGADISHU, Somalia-As the world grapples with COVID-19 in its final round, the Somalian government faces criticism for its lax approach to fight the pandemic.
The Horn of Africa country has not imposed a proper lockdown since March 2020, when the first coronavirus case was reported in the country. However, a curfew was imposed for less than a month in April last year.
Somalis are behaving as if there is no coronavirus, with no restrictions in public places and educational institutions, including universities.
Medical experts warned this attitude is dangerous for a country whose healthcare system remains weak because of poor resources.
“There is a lack of awareness and strong centralized government system, which can implement its policies nationwide,” Dr. Hassan Adan, a medical doctor at Tiirow Hospital in Baidoa city, told Anadolu Agency. “A lot of people do not believe that coronavirus is real and dangerous. Some people even think rain can cure the novel disease.”
On top of that, government briefings on the nation’s COVID-19 situation are not frequent. The last briefing was held in November.
“I lost a friend who had difficulty in breathing. I believe he died of COVID-19 but his family denies it,” a 37-year-old businessman in Mogadishu, Abdi Aziz Yusuf, told Anadolu Agency. “The situation would have been different had we received proper and timely information on the disease’s symptoms and causes,” he added.
Opposition lawmakers criticized the way the government handled the pandemic.
“It seems the government saw political and economic interests in the pandemic in the first place. The government exaggerated the number in the first six months and then stopped releasing all necessary information for the public about the coronavirus,” Ilyas Ali Hassan, an opposition member of the Senate, told Anadolu Agency.
Somali Health Ministry and the EU launched a €5 million ($6 million) multi-year project to support the World Health Organization (WHO) and Somalia to prevent further spread of the coronavirus and strengthen the health services delivery across the country.
“In addition to saving lives and preventing the spread of COVID-19, this project will help us build a legacy for Somalia’s health systems,” Health and Human Services Minister Dr. Fawziya Abikar Nur said.
“We are grateful to our partners, the EU and WHO, who are supporting us to reduce the burden and effects of deadly and communicable diseases, save lives of our community members, and make our health systems stronger and more effective,” she added, speaking at the project’s launching ceremony in the capital Mogadishu.
“We are leaving no stone unturned. Together with the EU, and the Federal Government of Somalia, we are redoubling our efforts to ensure everyone, everywhere in this country is safe and protected from COVID-19 and other health threats.
“Strengthening coordination and operational capacity for risk communication and delivering people-centered primary healthcare services will help marginalized and vulnerable populations. This will contribute immensely to building the healthcare systems,” said Dr. Mamunur Rahman Malik, WHO Representative in Somalia.
Mohamed Ibrahim, a healthcare expert in Mogadishu, told Anadolu Agency the only way forward is to work together to overcome this pandemic. “Medical doctors, the government, and the public need to work together to overcome this.”
Since Somalia announced its first case, 245 healthcare workers have tested positive for the virus, including 59 women workers, according to Zahra Isse Mohamed, head of the National Public Health Reference Laboratory.
National Incident Manager of COVID-19 Abdirizak Yusuf Ahmed said: “Most of the medical staff, doctors, nurses and laborers who have contracted COVID-19 are working at Demartino Hospital, in Mogadishu, National Lab, and some other hospitals.”
“The reason behind largescale infections among health workers was lack of awareness and shortage of protective gears. But now the government has provided protective equipment and other essential items to overcome the virus,” Ahmed told Anadolu Agency.
Total cases in the country reached 4,862, with 1,008 active cases and 134 deaths.
Banadir, the most populated region in the country, Somaliland and Puntland are the most affected regions. Banadir reported 1,717 cases, Somaliland 1,430, Puntland 1,182, Jubaland 238, Southwest 145, Galmudug 124, and Hirshabelle 26.
The current positivity rate of coronavirus in the East African country is 6.4%, while the fatality rate is 2.7%, according to the UN Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, (OCHA) Somalia office. According to the government, more than 200,000 people in the country have been tested so far.
Turkey helps Somalia fight pandemic
Turkey was the first foreign country to send a planeload of medical supplies to Somalia, days after the country announced its first infection. Medical supplies included masks, overalls, test kits, and other items, according to a Somali government official.
On Monday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan Hospital in the capital Mogadishu urged all patients and relatives visiting the hospital to wear masks.
“Due to the increased COVID-19 cases in Mogadishu, all patients and their relatives coming to our hospital must wear masks. In order to reduce the crowdedness only 40 patients will be admitted to the outpatient clinic of each department, except for emergency cases,” the hospital said in a statement.
A World Health Organization official said Somalia will receive 1.2 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine this month to cover 20% of its population.
According to Mamunur Rahman Malik, the WHO head in Somalia, the vaccine will cover 600,000 frontline health workers and municipalities staff — 3% of the country’s 15 million people.
These doses will be handed to the government free of charge, but it will need to buy additional vaccines to immunize the remaining 80% of the population