According to official figures, Somaliland currently has over 600 confirmed cases and 28 deaths due to COVID-19. Whilst total infections may appear lower than many countries, low community awareness of the disease and limited capacity to test people with symptoms, means the true extent of the crisis is far greater than what has been reported.
Like many countries on the African continent, Somaliland is particularly vulnerable. Underinvestment in the health system has resulted in a shortage of qualified health workers. There are limited intensive care facilities and health facilities are facing critical shortages of the basic equipment that they need to protect staff and patients.
The problem is particularly acute at Hargeisa Group Hospital – the country’s main public referral hospital – which serves an estimated one million people in and around Hargeisa. “HGH has become the focal point and the most affected hospital in Somaliland…The emergency staff have become overwhelmed with the increase in number of suspected patients and overall admissions”, Dr Manal, the National COVID-19 Response Coordinator explains. Further consultation with hospital staff show they are working in unsafe environments and without the basic equipment they need to deliver care safely, and many fear the risk of exposure. In some cases, health workers have experienced stigma and discrimination from their families and communities. A number have been asked to leave their homes for fear that they will bring COVID-19 into the family home and community.
With funding from the Health Worker Action Fund, King’s Global Health Partnerships, together with THET Somaliland and Hargeisa Group Hospital are working to support the safety, motivation and wellbeing of frontline health workers.
Over the next three months we will support health workers with training, protective equipment, housing and psychosocial support. Case management training will be delivered to health workers to ensure they have knowledge of the national guidelines on infection prevention and control, and how to safely manage Covid-19 patients. Training materials have been co-designed by staff at Hargeisa Group Hospital and volunteers working in the NHS who have experience of managing Covid-19 patients in the UK. Online support sessions will be used to connect Somaliland and UK health workers, allowing for exchange of learning and experience as well as peer-to-peer support between health workers in the global north and south.
Regular psychosocial support sessions, connecting health workers and hospital staff with a trained mental health worker, will provide a vital space for solidarity and peer support. Frontline health workers will also be supported with housing, transportation, and care packages of basic food items.
– King’s Global Health Partnerships Somaliland team