Pan­demic hits aid work in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa

Kuwait Times - - Health & Sci­ence - LIBREVILLE:

Des­per­ately needed aid for millions of peo­ple across sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa is un­der threat as the deadly coro­n­avirus pan­demic sweeps a con­ti­nent al­ready fac­ing a vol­ley of crises. In some cases so­cial dis­tanc­ing mea­sures and bor­der clo­sures are pre­vent­ing work­ers from dis­tribut­ing aid. In oth­ers, fund­ing is un­der threat as agen­cies scram­ble to pool re­sources to fight the fast-bal­loon­ing COVID-19 out­break on the con­ti­nent.

Cameroon’s po­lio vac­ci­na­tion cam­paign has been sus­pended, while in Chad a measles vac­ci­na­tion pro­gram has been post­poned. In Niger and Burk­ina Faso, where hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple have been dis­placed by ji­hadist vi­o­lence, flights bring­ing in hu­man­i­tar­ian aid have been put on hold. In the Cen­tral African Repub­lic, where most of the ter­ri­tory is un­der the sway of armed groups, sup­plies of chlo­rine, needed to pro­vide safe drink­ing wa­ter, are run­ning low.

“Some pro­grams have slowed down or been tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended, but most hu­man­i­tar­ian op­er­a­tions are con­tin­u­ing,” said Julie Be­langer, head of the UN’s Of­fice for the Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs for West and Cen­tral Africa. “We are fo­cus­ing on ac­tiv­i­ties that are vi­tal for sur­vival, but we are also adapt­ing our way of work­ing,” Be­langer said. The United Na­tions says about 76 mil­lion peo­ple in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa need aid to sur­vive and pro­tect their health. The coro­n­avirus pan­demic could fur­ther threaten pop­u­la­tions on the con­ti­nent, which so far has at least 12,700 recorded cases and more than 650 deaths, ac­cord­ing to an AFP tally Fri­day. Or­ga­ni­za­tions are quickly learn­ing to change how they work to pre­vent the virus from spread­ing fur­ther. In Niger, for in­stance, food hand­outs are be­ing dis­trib­uted in small groups in or­der to keep so­cial dis­tanc­ing, said Jean-Noel Gen­tile with the UN’s World Food Pro­gram. “To re­duce the fre­quency of food dis­tri­bu­tion, we are hand­ing out two or three months of ra­tions each time,” he said.

One fear that NGOs and gov­ern­ments have is that aid work­ers trav­el­ling to iso­lated ar­eas could bring the coro­n­avirus with them. In east­ern Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo (DRC), the first case of the virus reg­is­tered in Goma was that of a Nige­rian aid worker. Masks, gloves and pro­tec­tive cloth­ing are re­quired by some or­ga­ni­za­tions-but the cru­cial gear is hard to find in many coun­tries.

“This is al­ready dif­fi­cult enough in France-you can imag­ine how it is in the fur­thest reaches of the Cen­tral African Repub­lic,” said Is­abelle Robin of the French char­ity Ac­tion Against Hunger (ACF). The clo­sure of bor­ders and re­stric­tions on move­ment in­side coun­tries are ad­di­tional ob­sta­cles to de­liv­er­ing aid. As a re­sult, NGOs ev­ery­where are at­tempt­ing to ne­go­ti­ate with au­thor­i­ties in Africa to al­low “hu­man­i­tar­ian cor­ri­dors” or ex­emp­tions for their per­son­nel.

But of all the prob­lems for hu­man­i­tar­ian work right now, “the big­gest is fi­nan­cial”, said a UNICEF of­fi­cial in the DRC, point­ing to the fact that donor at­ten­tion lies else­where at the mo­ment. The United Na­tions has launched a $2 bil­lion (1.83 bil­lion euro) “global hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sponse plan” on coro­n­avirus, much of it ear­marked for Africa. — AFP

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