Displaced people in Borno IDP camps cannot practice social distancing
By Botti Isaac
Since Nigeria recorded its first COVID-19 index case on February 27, 2020, in Lagos, the virus has spread to other parts of the country. Borno State recorded its first corona virus-related death on Sunday, April 19 when a retired anaesthetic nurse working with one of the INGOswas brought from a community (Pulka) in GwozaLocal Government Areas to the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospitals and was confirmed to have died from COVID-19 complications. Since then, the number of infected persons in the State has increased exponentially, with a second death in April. In response, the Borno State Government embarked on stringent measures which included 14 days of total lockdown, border closure, restriction of religion and social gatherings, closures of markets and imposing general movement restriction across the state. Beyond the preventive measures, the state government has also set up a panel to investigate the circumstances surrounding the outbreak in the state and has provided needed support through situation monitoring and implementation of government palliatives to ease the impact of the lockdown order its citizens. There is no doubt that these measures are necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among the vulnerable populace. The spread of the virus in a place like Borno will not only aggravate an already bad situation of the people in the region but jeopardize all efforts at recovery from the endemic crises plaguing the region.
Borno State currently holds 70% of the 1.7 million displaced population in the northeast, most of whom live in displaced communities such as the formal camps and informal camps. The recent COVID-19 outbreak in Borno is from community transmission. An investigation into the death of the index case shows that the patient had no travel history to any other state or outside the country in recent times. Serious measures must be sustained to prevent a more severe outbreak in Borno, which would have a devastating impact in this already fragile state.
Limited access to medical and healthcare by members of communities, including IDPs, is one of the major challenges confronting people of Borno State, which already has an overburdened healthcare system that still struggles with malaria, maternal health challenges and other diseases. Years of violence by Boko Haram insurgents that attacked most communities in Borno have seen more than half of the healthcare facilities in the state destroyed, thereby subjecting people of the communities to hardship and misery.
Another factor that would militate against containing the spread of COVID-19 in IDP communities is the fact that most of the IDPs camps and communities in Maiduguri are overcrowded with several persons living together in small makeshift tents. Issues of personal hygiene is also a challenge as most IDP camps lack water and other supplies such as soap and disinfectants. So, if the virus breaks out in the IDP camps, it will be complicated to implement any of the prescribed global preventive measures such as social distancing, maintaining regular personal hygiene (regular hand wash) and staying at home.
It is also crucial to address the potential economic implication of the spread of COVID-19 on IDPs. Currently, the capacity of many of the IDP camps in Born State is overstretched with the daily influx of victims of violence into the state and settling in the various camps, thereby placing more burden on the limited resources to care for their needs. So the outbreak of COVID-19 in the state would further aggravate the livelihood situation and places more burden on the state’s meagre resources.
An outbreak of COVID-19 in Borno would impact women and girls who are already the most affected victims of insurgency and the humanitarian crisis in the region. It is important to reiterate that women and girls constituted 80% of those affected by the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the state.
The COVID-19 pandemic is also currently affecting the humanitarian work going on in the State. As a result of the lockdown order and the restriction on interstate movement, the pace of humanitarian work is significantly impacted. Most of the humanitarian actors including Social Action working in the state are faced with a rare situation of not being able to deliver on their already planned interventions despite the state government classifying humanitarian workers as essential workers.
However, rather than allowing the outbreak of COVID-19 to stall its ongoing work totally, Social Action in the last few weeks has developed and engaged in strategic programs that will help provide the needed support for members of the displaced communities to prevent and mitigate both the health and economic impact of COVID-19. Social Action is supporting the state’s civil society to address the need for public enlightenment and monitoring of the situation to provide a real-time view on responses to the humanitarian and health needs of the vulnerable populace. We are currently supporting groups of monitors to observe community responses to identify gaps and lapses in COVID-19 responses and ensure that all gaps are bridged by stakeholders, as much as is possible.
Botti Isaac is a Programmes Officer of Social Action