By Mary Hearty

The high population density in refugee centers across Sub Saharan Africa is a major concern especially during this pandemic as accessing clean water and observing physical distancing poses a big challenge.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has emphasized the need for greater access to COVID-19 detection, testing and care among these endangered population.

“WHO urges the humanitarian community and Member States to increase support to the millions of people in dire need of assistance in the region,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said during a virtual conference.

“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,” Dr Moeti cautioned.

Sequentially, WHO has come up with advices to help ease COVID-19 adjustments in camps or camp-like settings. For example, recommending health screenings for people arriving at collective sites and temporary isolation centers for suspected cases.

Also, WHO instructs that activities like food distribution or education be adjusted to limit mass gatherings and strengthen infection prevention and control.

Furthermore, The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and other operational partners are on the frontline supporting WHO in raising awareness about COVID-19 among vulnerable populations.

In addition, it distributes medical supplies and implement preventive measures including handwashing stations. Efforts are also underway to strengthen surveillance, train health workers, establish telehealth centres, and test and care for people who contract the disease.

According to Dr Moeti: “COVID-19 has exacerbated existing humanitarian challenges, particularly with regards to access to health services in many countries in the region.”

“With the pandemic, we have seen some humanitarian operations delayed due to lockdowns, curfew and the restrictions of movement for both personnel and cargo vital for COVID-19 response,” Dr Moeti explained.

Over 26 percent of the world’s refugee population reside in Sub-Saharan Africa. Regions in conflict such as the Sahel have led to closure of health facilities and the flight of health workers.

Besides, 110 health facilities in Burkina Faso have been closed because of insecurity whereas 186 others have been weakened. As a result, 1.5 million people now lack access to health care in these regions.

In the central and northern region of Mali, health services have been paralyzed due to persistent attacks.

Nevertheless, 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.

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