The first case of coronavirus registered in Nigeria occurred on February 28, several weeks before the epidemic officially became a pandemic, as declared by the World Health Organization; a virus with worldwide features.
Since that day, in this African country with enormous internal complexities and an accelerated population growth, there have been hundreds of positive cases and, consequently, the victims have also increased.
In the state of Borno, where INTERSOS has been operating since 2016 to assist thousands of displaced people fleeing violence – which is a reflection of internal conflicts between the national army and armed groups such as Boko Haram – the fear that the virus may spread among an already highly vulnerable population is growing. The same fear afflicts the states of Adamawa and Yobe, also affected by years of intrinsic struggles, territories dotted with reception camps and informal settlements.
In a country where the health system is fragile, if not ineffective, where the high birth rate has led to a saturated concentration of population in urban centers over the years, COVID-19 scares inexorably. The possibility of having access to drinking water is almost fortuitous as are the hygienic-sanitary conditions, which are almost non-existent throughout the territory. This is the scenario that should face a possible escalation of the coronavirus, an announced humanitarian emergency.
As the pandemic progresses, the intervention of NGOs becomes a priority, especially in areas such as Ngala, Maiduguri and Banki, among the most exposed due to population congestion and parallel lack of services. Here INTERSOS operators immediately started prevention and awareness activities on the danger of COVID-19, through the coordination of 15 refugee camps in which approximately 2 million people live.
Within the camps, the health of the most vulnerable people, of the elderly and those who already have chronic diseases, is constantly monitored.
Moreover, we started sanitizing the camps through daily disinfection, facilitating personal hygiene with the installation of pumps and taps in all the access points of the camps, distributing soap and raising awareness on preventive measures such as frequent hand washing and maintaining safety distances.
In the town of Ngala (125 km from Maiduguri, less than 100 km from the capital of Chad, N’Djameena, and on the border between Nigeria and Cameroon) which houses two camps for a total of almost 60,000 people, despite the COVID-19 emergency, the safety of the beneficiaries and of the staff is still at risk today due to the resumption of the sudden attacks by Boko Haram, a constant threat in the country. The latest attack occurred on the night between April 6 and 7. Only the rapid intervention of government forces avoided an internal massacre.
Humanitarian workers in a country like Nigeria carry on their shoulders the stories of those who daily struggle to survive, the suffering induced by violence, by the devastation of the villages, by the effort to obtain food and care medical. To help these people, INTERSOS, since the beginning of the COVID-19 emergency, is supporting health workers and medical facilities of Magumeri General Hospital, Gajiganna, Dikwa, Ngala and Bama and managing the first coronavirus screening system in Banki, reinforcing the work of the state agency for emergency management in collaboration with WHO and UNICEF.
With a dramatic evolution of the spread of the virus and an increase in the number of people infected, the next months are facing an unpredictable complexity. In Nigeria, once again, humanitarian work will be increasingly crucial.