Unrecognized, under-resourced and with virtually non-existent public healthcare system, is Somaliland ready for the COVID-19 global scourge that have brought global superpowers to their knees? Can Somaliland survive this global pandemic and are the public taking this modern day black-death seriously?
The global infection rate has roared past a million, with 60,000 deaths worldwide. Below live dashboard from Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University has the latest grim statistics.
Although there are only two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Somaliland, the government has early on created a high level committee chaired the Vice President HE Abdirahman Abdallahi Ismail Saylici to coordinate the government’s response to the pandemic and have since its inception has issued a number of directives to the public.
Some of the early measures include dismissal of all public and private schools in Somaliland and closure of all government offices with the exception of essential staff. The government has also banned flights from multiple countries, although Ethiopian Airlines is still making regular flights to Egal International Airport.
The Ministry of Education and Science in collaboration with Somaliland National Television and Telesom has started telecasting classes remotely to students.
The COVID-19 committee has been updating the public regularly and some of its members such as the Minister of Information and Guidance Hon. Saleban Ali Kore has been very candid about the threat of the corona virus and implored the public to take it seriously.
Public awareness programs are also on high-gear including a recorded COVID-19 message that replaced telephone dial tone.
President Bihi has also ordered the immediate release of 574 prisoners to lighten the load on overcrowded prisons ahead of the arrival of the corona virus in Somaliland.
Despite many commendable measures from the government, there are gaping holes in Somaliland’s defense and preparedness against COVID-19, particularly in areas of khat import and packed social spaces such as mosques.
There is still no visible change in public behavior, however, where many establishments with large crowds are still open and public transportation consisting mainly of buses and taxis are running and mosques are still packed. Simply put one of the most basic measures of preventing the spread of COVID-19 such as social distancing are not being practiced.
Public sentiment towards the virus is mixed, where many view it as a scourge that is only plaguing non-muslim countries, despite ample evidence to the contrary but there is a prevailing nonchalant attitude.
Basic economic arithmetic makes measures implemented by many countries to break the infection chain of COVID-19 including mandatory stay-at-home and self isolation measures impossible in Somaliland.
Even abroad, Somali people in general have been one of the most affected groups in certain countries such as Sweden, and although Somalis are thought to be fewer than 40,000, at the initial stages of the infection in that country have suffered more than 50% fatality rate. This is due to social norms and unwillingness to practice social distancing and other preventative measures.
A major area of concern that makes Somaliland particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 pandemic is the state of its emergency preparedness and its meager strategic reserves of basic necessities such as food, medicine and fuel that may not last more than few days.
Healthcare in Somaliland is so basic that there is no national Health Information System or an early warning system to track and monitor infectious disease. In the past when Cholera outbreak in 2017 affected communities in Somaliland, the government response was uncoordinated and inadequate that it cost many lives
Somaliland is in a unique position among world countries due to its unrecognized status and in a perilous time where the United States, the United Kingdom and other European countries are struggling to cope with this pandemic, it is being excluded from receiving basic medical necessities to combat the virus.
While it is disingenuous for anyone to expect Somaliland government to achieve a miracle against COVID-19 where the most powerful nations have failed but the most important tasks that Somaliland government is failing at the moment are
- Clearly communicate the lethality of COVID-19 to the public
- Ban khat import from Ethiopia
- Stop international flights
- Minimize public gathering including mosques.
- Ensure adequate strategic reserve of medicine, fuel and food.
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