COVID-19 risks in East Africa heighten as severe floods displace nearly half a million people

Eastern Africa is increasingly feeling the impact of COVID-19, with a steady increase of known cases since the first was declared in Kenya on March 13th 2020. To date, there have been at least 4435 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Eastern Africa, with Djibouti and Somalia accounting for more than half of all cases[7].  Save the Children is gravely concerned about the increased risk to families of contracting COVID-19 as they shelter in unhygienic, severely overcrowded conditions.

 

Along with the risk of COVID-19, Save the Children is also concerned that the flooding may result in an increase in cases of acute diarrhoea, cholera, pneumonia and bilharzia, putting further strain on health systems and more lives at risk. There have already been 90 new cases of acute diarrhoea were reported in Jubaland, Somalia, since the mass displacement began

Save the Children’s Operations Director for East and Southern Africa, Yvonne Arunga, said: “This is a rapidly escalating disaster, on top of multiple disasters. With the risk of COVID-19 ever-present, we need to make sure that displaced families have access to basic sanitation, and we need to make sure they’re not living back to back in displacement centres. The current situation is a massive COVID-19 outbreak waiting to happen.

 

“Our emergency response teams are already on the ground, using established disaster reduction systems to roll out a response. We’re working closely with partners to ensure children are protected while displaced, including establishing child protection committees with community leaders and providing direct case support to vulnerable or unaccompanied children. And we’re using community radio to warn people to evacuate from floods before they arrive, and working with our Village Disaster Management Committees, made up of community members and local councils, to distribute tents and share information.”

 

Climate shocks, including the rains and floods, coupled with the ongoing locust infestation, COVID-19, and a reliance on forms of income that are impacted by COVID-19 restrictions – such as tourism and remittances – has put unprecedented pressure on highly vulnerable, malnourished families across Eastern Africa. Children with a poor diet, particularly in the early months and years of life, have an increased risk of illness, infections and stunting, which can impact their learning, development, productivity and health in adulthood.

 

Save the Children is working across the region to respond to the flood crisis, distributing household essentials, water and sanitation items. In Uganda, we are distributing tents to affected families sheltering in overcrowded conditions in churches and schools. In Kenya, we are providing household kits to displaced families camping in schools, to reduce the reliance on shared facilities. In Somalia, we are providing clean water through water trucking, and services via mobile health and nutrition teams. We are also using COVID-19 hygiene messages adapted for the situation to help children and their families find ways to keep clean while displaced