ICRC sees decline in healthcare visits in Somalia due to COVID-19

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Members of the Mombasa Kenya Red Cross Society demonstrate life saving skills at the public beach in Mombasa on April 3, 2015. Despite the low turn up in the number of international tourists visiting Kenya due to terrorists related incidents, local tourists sill trip to the coastal area to celebrate the Easter weekend. (Xinhua/Simbi Kusimba)
Members of the Mombasa Kenya Red Cross Society demonstrate life saving skills at the public beach in Mombasa on April 3, 2015. Despite the low turn up in the number of international tourists visiting Kenya due to terrorists related incidents, local tourists sill trip to the coastal area to celebrate the Easter weekend. (Xinhua/Simbi Kusimba)

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Tuesday primary healthcare visits and childhood vaccination coverage have sharply declined in Somalia amid the COVID-19 pandemic as infectious diseases surge.

The charity said the drop in healthcare visits has raised concerns that diseases such as respiratory infections, measles, and acute watery diarrhea (AWD) as well as malnutrition could be going untreated, while floods have forced tens of thousands of people from their homes.

“We are also seeing a decline in clinic visits during the pandemic, which is deeply worrying in that preventable deaths from diseases such as malaria or complications in childbirth could claim more lives than COVID-19 itself,” Ana Maria Guzman, the health coordinator for the ICRC in Somalia said in a statement issued in Mogadishu.

Guzman said the fight against COVID-19 has put an additional strain on health care resources and is stretching the charity’s ability to respond to multiple health threats at the same time.

“What we have already seen in our community-based surveillance tool is what is at stake if we focus all of our resources on fighting COVID-19 and neglect seasonal disease outbreaks like AWD and vaccination campaigns against measles and other preventable illnesses,” she said.

The ICRC said it has documented seven times more cases of suspected AWD than possible COVID-19 cases in the last two months, underscoring what is at risk if seasonal disease outbreaks are neglected.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), healthcare visits to Somali Red Crescent clinics by children under five and pregnant women dropped by more than 50 percent from about 181,000 medical consultations in the first seven months of 2019 to nearly 83,000 in the same period this year.

Vaccination coverage for children against diphtheria, hepatitis B, tetanus and whooping cough declined from 77 percent in 2019 to 56 percent in June 2020, WHO said.

Habiba Ahmed, a Somali Red Crescent nurse who works in a clinic in Balcad said the floods have forced people into displacement camps where they have little clean water, sanitation, or food.

“We are seeing AWD cases rise, with most patients coming from villages on the outskirts of Balcad in Middle Shabelle who have had to walk long distances to reach our clinic,” Ahmed added.

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