Preparing for the seasonal peaks in a COVID-19 context
"Last year, malaria was the most common medical issue among our patients. We now fear the worst as the seasonal peak between May and October is approaching, many health facilities have closed and people are stranded in inaccessible areas with a very limited access to health services," said Hassan Maïyaki, MSF´s Head of Mission in Burkina Faso.
At the same time, these communities are struggling to survive in precarious living conditions, with a lack of access to water and food shortages. According to the World Food Programme, the number of people suffering from food insecurity could double from just over one million to 2.1 million as the annual food shortage season approaches in June. Last year's harvests were poor, and people are already weak and vulnerable. Between January and March, months before the start of the ‘hunger gap’, our teams took care of close to 400 malnourished children in Barsalogho, Gayeri and Matiacoali.
"In such an unstable security context, with a weakened health system and difficult access to populations, humanitarian organisations, including MSF, are finding it difficult to prepare for this critical period. And the COVID-19 pandemic is going to make our task that much harder," said Maïyaki.
Integrating a COVID-19 response
Since Burkina Faso confirmed its first coronavirus case on March 9, the country has seen a rapid increase with outbreaks in nine of its 13 regions.
MSF is preparing to support the health authorities’ COVID-19 response through a number of initiatives, including health promotion, staff training and strengthening the capacity of health facilities to manage and care for COVID-19 patients. This includes infection prevention and control measures and setting up isolation areas. We are also preparing to support case management in the capital Ouagadougou, and have started patient care in a dedicated facility in Burkina Faso´s second-largest city Bobo Dioulasso.
A priority for MSF teams will be to continue regular medical activities in Burkina Faso, while adapting to the new challenges created by the outbreak. In Fada N'Gourma in the East region, for example, the team had to temporarily suspend and reorganise a mass measles vaccination campaign due to new regulations about mass gatherings. The vaccination campaign will resume in the coming days. In western Burkina Faso, an area already affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, an MSF team has just completed a measles vaccination programme in the Mouhoun province. More than 72,000 children under 10 years were vaccinated in Dedougou, and close to 37,000 under 14-year-olds in Boromo.
“Temporary interruptions of preventive programmes, such as seasonal malaria chemoprevention or measles vaccinations, could trigger new outbreaks. Any COVID-19 response must be integrated with other major health programmes, including measles, malaria and malnutrition,” insists Maïyaki.
“Seasonal shocks, such as the period of food shortages or the seasonal malaria transmission peak, will soon affect people across Burkina Faso and young children in particular. We must be fully prepared for the post-COVID-19 situation, as its indirect consequences could lead to a new phase of emergencies if basic needs are not met”.
International medical humanitarian organisation MSF has been working in Burkina Faso since 1995. Since 2018, MSF teams have been present in Djibo, supporting the emergency room of the medical centre. In 2019, MSF increased the volume of its activities throughout the country. Our teams are now working in Barsalogho and in Kaya, and are about to start activities in Kongoussi. MSF is also continuing its assistance to people in Titao, Ouindigui, Matiacoali, Gayeri, Nagaré and Fada N'Gourma. In March, following attacks in Yatenga province, our teams began providing medical consultations and water to thousands of people who had taken refuge in Ouahigouya, the capital of North region.