WHO calls for greater access to coronavirus support for vulnerable populations

By Fabian Sutch-Daggett - World Healthcare Journal

Today, the WHO called for greater access to Covid-19 detection, testing and care to support vulnerable populations in Africa.

Long-running conflicts in regions across the continent have intensified issues in weakened healthcare systems, leading to the closure of many health facilities and the flight of health workers.

In Burkina Faso alone, 110 health facilities have been closed due to insecurity - while services have been impaired in 186 others, leaving around 1.5 million people without adequate health care in a time where they need it more than ever.

“Covid-19 has exacerbated existing humanitarian challenges, particularly with regards to access to health services in many countries in the region,” says Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“With the pandemic, we have seen some humanitarian operations delayed due to lockdowns, curfews and the restrictions of movement for both personnel and cargo vital for Covid-19 response. ”

In Mali’s central and northern regions, health services have been paralysed over recent years by persistent attacks and terrorist threats. In 2019 alone, 18 attacks on health facilities were reported. So far this year, one health centre in Mali has been attacked.

Crowded settings such as displacement camps for refugees can also heighten the risk of coronavirus transmission due to difficult access to clean water, leading to inadequate hygiene, and rendering social distancing almost impossible.

Although information on Covid-19 transmission in humanitarian settings remains limited so far, more than 1,800 cases have been reported among refugees or displaced citizens in seven countries. Additionally, due to the limited detection and testing capacity, the number is likely to be heavily underestimated.

“WHO urges the humanitarian community and Member States to increase support to the millions of people in dire need of assistance in the region,” says Dr Moeti.

If we don’t step up health services, including testing, tracing, isolation and care for people already living in precarious settings and displacement camps, Covid-19 could spark untold tragedy,”

As a result of the potential danger which Covid-19 poses to these vulnerable communities, WHO has developed guidance on coronavirus mitigation in humanitarian settings, recommending health screenings for people arriving at sites and temporary isolation centres for suspected cases. WHO also advises that activities such as food distribution or education should be adjusted to limit mass gatherings and strengthen infection prevention and control.

Efforts are also underway to strengthen surveillance, train health workers, establish telehealth centres, and test and care for people who contract the disease.

Additionally, the United Nations is currently implementing a plan designed to fight the pandemic in countries facing extreme humanitarian situations.

The plan identifies ways to address the immediate health and non-health needs related to Covid-19 for the most vulnerable populations through health, water, sanitation, hygiene, food and agriculture, logistics, education and protection.

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