(Theguardian) – In the Nabadoon camp on the outskirts of Mogadishu, Asho Abdullahi Hassan, a 40-year-old mother of seven, has heard about the coronavirus on the radio.
“I am very scared about this deadly virus. I only heard about it from the news. It is like we are waiting for death to come,” she says.
The camp hosts about 3,000 families, most recently displaced from Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region following an intensification of fighting and US airstrikes.
Humanitarian activists are warning that it may be impossible to stop the spread of the virus in such places, where sanitary precautions are difficult and social distancing impossible. In Nabadoon, few can afford soap and water is rare.
“This can get very bad. It will be hard,” said Patrick Youssef, deputy director for Africa at the International Committee of the Red Cross. “Our fear is that governments will seek to protect those they see as their own populations and people … in refugee camps will be left to fend for themselves.”
The WHO’s Africa region – sub-Saharan countries plus Algeria – had recorded 990 confirmed cases and 23 deaths as of Tuesday morning.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, has warned that official numbers may underestimate the scale of infection on the continent. “Probably we have undetected cases or unreported cases,” he said. “In other countries we have seen how the virus actually accelerates after a certain tipping point, so the best advice for Africa is to prepare for the worst and prepare today.”
South Africa, Senegal and Rwanda are the most recent countries to impose stringent new restrictions on movement. President Cyril Ramaphosa said police and army would enforce a three week lockdown from Friday.
But little attention has yet been paid to the 6.5 million refugees in sub-Saharan Africa, many living in precarious conditions, often already weakened by malnutrition and disease.
Health officials across Africa know that hospitals can deal with only a fraction of those needing care if the virus spreads through overcrowded cities, remote villages and among vulnerable populations such as those suffering from HIV and other chronic conditions.
Authorities are already moving to protect some sites. In north-east Nigeria, visitors have been banned from camps housing tens of thousands of people displaced by the Boko Haram insurgency, in a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, on Monday reported its first death from Covid-19, as the country’s overall number of confirmed cases rose to 36.