By Bukar Bolori
Medecins Sans Frontieres, otherwise called Doctors Without Borders, has called for immediate improvement in
water and sanitation facilities in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Borno State.
The organisation decried that should COVID-19 sneaks into the camps, the result will be devastating as a result of overcrowding and poor sanitary condition and hygiene.
A statement by the organisation on Saturday, said: “After more than a decade of armed conflict, outbreaks of severe malnutrition, malaria, measles and cholera, approximately 1.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs) in Borno state now face the spectre of COVID-19.”
It said: “Many live in vastly overcrowded camps with poor water and sanitation facilities, limited supplies of hygiene essentials such as soap and water, and often no individual space at all.
“Functioning health infrastructure in Borno is scarce, and the capacity to refer patients is extremely limited. With so many people already vulnerable to outbreaks of disease, essential humanitarian assistance must be maintained; water and sanitation facilities must be improved in IDP camps; and frontline health workers on whom the population will depend, must have access to personal protective equipment.”
The statement further read that: “MSF has been working in Borno state since 2014, and during that time we have borne witness to deplorable conditions for IDPs, many of whom already suffer from illnesses endemic to overcrowded settlements, such as water-borne diseases and respiratory tract infections like pneumonia, which has been identified as a significant threat when coupled with COVID-19.”
It said: “COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on healthcare systems, economies and populations worldwide and it poses a substantial threat in Borno. However, even if COVID-19 were not present in Nigeria, the need for humanitarian assistance in Borno would still be massive. In just over a month, rainy season will commence, bringing with it a surge in cases of malaria and malnutrition.
“In Maiduguri, Ngala, Pulka and Gwoza, our hospitals run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and during rainy season they will all be full. In 2019 alone, MSF teams treated more than 10,000 patients for malnutrition in Borno and more than 33,000 confirmed cases of malaria; over 40,000 patients were admitted to MSF’s emergency rooms. The effect that COVID-19 will have on our patients must not be underestimated, but if the chaos caused by this pandemic is allowed to curtail humanitarian assistance, the results will be catastrophic.”
The statement read: “MSF is extremely concerned about the spread of COVID-19 and the potentially disastrous impact it will have on the most vulnerable. As the virus spreads in Nigeria, our priority is to maintain our operations which save thousands of lives every year, and to protect our patients and staff. To do this, our medical and logistical teams have reinforced infection prevention protocols, informed local communities on the best prevention measures against COVID-19, installed hand washing points in local communities, established isolation zones and adapted our triage processes.
“At a time of unprecedented global demand for medical supplies, the procurement of personal-protective-equipment for healthcare staff poses a substantial challenge, however it is a challenge we must face in order to protect frontline medical workers and continue treating our patients.”
The statement, quoting Siham Hajaj, MSF Head of Mission, said: “In all the IDP settings where MSF has operations in Borno state, gaps in essential water and sanitation facilities exacerbate the threat posed by COVID-19. These gaps, combined with the levels of overcrowding, and endemic health issues with a lack of corresponding health infrastructure, underscore the vulnerability of the population. There is no doubt about the danger posed by COVID-19, however, one thing we know for sure is that other diseases and medical conditions will not relent. We cannot afford to let this pandemic disrupt other medical assistance – the continued provision of medical services at this time is essential and it will save lives.”
He said the COVID-19 is not the only threat facing people in Borno state, but its presence in Nigeria highlights the extreme vulnerability of so many who have already endured the horrors of war, disease and malnutrition.
He lamented that: “For them, social distancing is an abstract luxury, and frequent hand washing diminishes a precious resource. In the face of this pandemic, the ramifications of Borno’s fragile health infrastructure are clearer than ever. It is imperative that humanitarian assistance be maintained for this population. Failure to do so will cost lives.”