This year, World Humanitarian Day (August 19) arrives at a time when COVID-19 is surging across Africa: more than 1 million cases have been reported, despite limited testing capacity. COVID-19 is starting to spread beyond Africa’s urban areas and now poses a serious threat to humanitarian settings such as refugee settlements and war-torn communities.
Health systems in humanitarian settings are often poorly resourced and overwhelmed by other deadly diseases like malaria – and thus highly vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks. A coronavirus scare can lead to the suspension of malaria prevention and treatment services. In high-burden settings, even a brief facility closure or health worker shortage can trigger a rapid surge in malaria transmission. Prevention campaigns depend on high community coverage to suppress malaria; and malaria case management is compromised when sick individuals are afraid or unable to seek care. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that deaths from malaria could double in 2020 if COVID-19 causes severe disruptions to malaria prevention campaigns and treatment provisions.
To ensure essential health services continue in the malaria-affected world, we must take immediate action to protect frontline health workers and health facilities from COVID-19. And so, the United Nations Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign has joined forces with SC Johnson and The MENTOR Initiative to help medical workers protect themselves from COVID-19 in one of the world’s most vulnerable and hard-to-reach regions: Nigeria’s Borno State.
Borno is the epicenter of a decade-long violent conflict between government and armed opposition forces that has left over 7 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Malaria remains the highest cause of reported morbidity (44%) and mortality (34%) in Borno, which is also plagued by extreme rates of other infectious diseases and malnutrition. COVID-19 has yet to reach peak transmission in Borno, but the risk of outbreak is extremely high due to under-resourced health systems, lack of water and sanitation infrastructure, cramped living conditions, and weakened immune systems.
SC Johnson has generously donated over 1,000 innovative disinfection kits to 100 Borno health facilities. The kits contain EPA-approved disinfection products – including hand sanitizer, a concentrated disinfectant, and disinfecting wipes – along with easy-to-follow pictogram instructions that ensure safe handling of the kit’s components.
With support from Nothing But Nets, MENTOR will oversee safe delivery of these kits to clinics and hospitals that serve 2 million Borno residents living in the most crisis-affected communities, including approximately 600,000 displaced persons. By protecting health workers and their patients from COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, these kits will help ensure uninterrupted delivery of critical life-saving health services, including malaria case management. The project is slated to begin this Fall and conclude the following Spring.
Thank you to SC Johnson, the United Nations Foundation’s Nothing But Nets campaign, and all respective supporters and partners who have made this rapid-response project possible. In the coming months, we will share a series of on-the-ground multimedia stories about the frontline health workers and the people they serve. Please follow our Twitter and those of our partners SC Johnson and Nothing But Nets for the latest updates.