Decline in health care visits in Somalia amid COVID-19

There has been a decline in primary health care visits and childhood vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic while infectious diseases rise in Somalia, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on Tuesday.

In a statement, the ICRC said diseases such as respiratory infections, measles, acute watery diarrhea and malnutrition could be going untreated.

“The fight against COVID-19 has put an additional strain on health care resources and is stretching our ability to respond to multiple health threats at the same time,” said Ana Maria Guzman, the health coordinator for the ICRC in Somalia.

“We are also seeing a decline in clinic visits during the pandemic, which is deeply worrying in that preventable deaths from diseases such as malaria or complications in child birth could claim more lives than COVID-19 itself,” Maria added.

With a population of over 15 million, the Horn of Africa country has recorded 3,269 coronavirus cases, with 93 deaths and 2,443 recoveries, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

The country has also been devastated by flooding which has forced 650,000 people to leave their homes since the beginning of the year, according to the statement.

“The floods have forced people into displacement camps where they have little to no clean water, sanitation, or food,” said Habiba Ahmed, a Somali Red Crescent nurse who works in a clinic in Balcad.

“We are seeing AWD [acute watery diarrhea] cases rise, with most patients coming from villages on the outskirts of Balcad in Middle Shabelle who have had to walk long distances to reach our clinic,” Ahmed added.

Rising cases of acute watery diarrhea is fueled by lack of safe drinking water, poor sanitation, and population displacements due to flood.

The ICRC said more acute watery diarrhea cases are “reported in children under five years old, who are particularly vulnerable to disease, especially if their immune systems are compromised by malnutrition.”