Coronavirus: Somalia has 15 million people and 15 ICU beds and we are fearful of what is to come says Trócaire

Paul Healy is Trócaire's country director for Somalia and describes the challenges of responding to Covid-19 in a country where Trócaire is the only provider of healthcare in a region larger than Ireland

Handwashing at Akara Health Centre in Somalia as part of Covid-19 prevention activities. Picture by Tr&oacute;caire<br /><br />&nbsp;
Handwashing at Akara Health Centre in Somalia as part of Covid-19 prevention activities. Picture by Trócaire


The UN’s World Food Programme has issued a dire warning that the coronavirus has left the world “on the brink of a hunger pandemic”.

Officials fear this could lead to “multiple famines of biblical proportions”.

We know it is just a matter of time before the coronavirus reaches the communities we support in Somalia.

We know we are now in a race against time to prepare as best we can for the worst.

Trócaire is the only healthcare provider in a region called Gedo in the west of the country. Gedo is slightly larger than Ireland. The people there are incredibly reliant on the healthcare services we provide.

There is a huge amount of fear in Somalia right now. The country has 15 million people but only 15 intensive care (ICU) beds. If the coronavirus takes hold here, it will cause devastation.

The challenges are huge but we have been planning our response to this pandemic for some time now. Because we have responded to cholera outbreaks in the past, we have experience in managing disease outbreaks.

We have pre-positioned personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies such as face masks, gloves and goggles as well as thermal temperature guns.

We are setting up isolation wards at the hospitals we run. These wards have to be situated away from patients accessing our malnutrition and maternity services. This is the biggest challenge of all – how to keep our existing life-saving work going as well as handling the pandemic.

We desperately need funds. One very simple example is when we create the isolation wards, we will need funds to feed the people in those wards. We've bought a number of small oxygen concentrators but we don't have enough of them.

We have gowns, masks, goggles and gloves but we need more of them. We've got doctors and nurses, who are fantastically talented and motivated.

But to be able to respond properly to this crisis we are going to need more resources and help.

Our amazing supporters at home in Ireland always step-up to the challenge and I thank them from the bottom of my heart.

The needs here are already huge. We have people coming to us who don't have any access to water. They are crammed into very tight spaces in internally displaced camps. Hand washing and social distancing are not possible.

Many of these people – particularly children – are suffering malnutrition. Their immunity is badly compromised.

But we have an opportunity to make a real difference here. One of the things we've learned from cholera is that you can be overwhelmed by a medical response. A community health response is just as important.

This means working very closely with the community - children, adults, elders, religious leaders - to deepen the message around basic hygiene and social distancing.

Trócaire has 50 community health volunteers who are trained on health promotion. Getting them out into the communities to educate and inform people how to protect themselves is going to be so important in the weeks and months ahead.

It’s a very complicated situation here. Somalia is already one of the poorest countries in the world. We are very fearful for what the next few months hold in store.

We are just trying to prepare for the worst with our staff and make sure we do the best we can for the people that we serve.

To support Trócaire visit or phone 0800 912 1200 (NI).

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