COVID-19: overshadowing emergencies
The already urgent humanitarian situation in the central Sahel and Lake Chad basin worsened with the arrival of COVID-19. Médecins Sans Frontières has adapted our programs in the region to ensure their safe operation by implementing measures such as social distancing and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).
MSF supported local COVID-19 responses in all six countries, but our focus remains on other emergencies, including seasonal peaks of malaria, mental health needs, malnutrition, and the increase in violence and displacement.
Our main concern is that the pandemic is depleting resources and diverting attention from other essential medical interventions. There is a need to keep the spread of the virus under control, but it should not be done at the expense of other critical humanitarian initiatives. Since the outbreak began, MSF has been concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on routine vaccination activities and campaigns due to restricted mobility and gatherings, and a lack of PPE. Fear of getting infected while visiting health centers also prevents people from getting access to care.
It is estimated that COVID-19 caused less than 1 percent of deaths in Africa in 2020, but it remains the focus of many contingency plans in the region. This has hampered existing efforts to reduce the transmission of other deadly diseases. For example, malaria is ten times more deadly than COVID-19 in Africa. The continent recorded 384,000 deaths from malaria in 2019, according to the World Health Organization. In the Sahel region, the malaria peak was more severe and lasted longer than in previous years. The rainy season was longer and heavier than usual, and national malaria prevention activities – such as large-scale distribution of mosquito nets – have been reduced or postponed due to COVID-19 restrictions and reallocation of vital resources.
In Cameroon, we saw how the national health system’s allocation of human and material resources to COVID-19 has increased the risk of other disease outbreaks such as cholera and measles, which are endemic to Cameroon.
Continuity of care is vital for communities and patients affected by other diseases. Therefore, the pandemic response needs to be integrated into the regular health system. COVID-19 continues to monopolize media attention around the world, but MSF is committed to raising awareness of these neglected crises.