Fieldset
Violence, hunger and now COVID-19: The threats facing Burkina Faso

The West African country of Burkina Faso is facing fast-growing humanitarian crisis with hundreds of thousands displaced by violence now threatened by COVID-19. Project manager Hassan explains how our teams on the ground are preparing for the pandemic and what is particularly important now...

Transport mit dem Eselkarren in Burkina Faso

The new coronavirus disease has long since reached Burkina Faso, with nine out of 13 regions of the country now affected.

The first cases occurred on 9 March in the capital Ouagadougou and others followed quickly.

By mid-April, according to the Centre for Emergency Health Response Operations (CORUS), there were more than 500 confirmed cases and 30 deaths in Burkina Faso.

The indirect consequences of the coronavirus pandemic could take the emergency situation to a new level.

Although 95 percent of known chains of infection are located in the capital, the situation in other parts of the country remains very worrying.

Burkina Faso is already facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis marked by violence and displacement. 

Millions in need of assistance

There are more than 800,000 internally displaced people in the country and the UN estimates that more than two million people will need humanitarian help this year.

The majority of these people live in poor conditions, with insufficient access to clean water or medical care and many other problems.

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A water distribution site in Djibo, Burkina Faso, where MSF is providing medical and humanitarian aid to thousands of people threatened by violence and COVID-19.
A water distribution site in Djibo, Burkina Faso, where MSF is providing medical and humanitarian aid to thousands of people threatened by violence and COVID-19.

Even the humanitarian aid provided so far has not been sufficient. Until a few weeks ago, the most urgent task was to increase this aid in order to gain access to remote areas. 

However, the attention is now on COVID-19 and although the infection situation is currently under control, the pandemic is a top priority in order to prevent more deaths.

Preparing for the pandemic

As we have seen elsewhere, no country has been prepared for the enormous number of COVID-19 patients, some of them seriously ill. 

It is, therefore, necessary to increase hospital capacity now to be prepared for a possible large-scale outbreak in the coming days. 

We are in close contact with the health authorities to develop strategies to help contain the outbreak in Burkina Faso.

In particular, we are helping to identify and treat patients in Ouagadougou, Fada N'gourma, and Gayeri.

One of our priorities is to strengthen preventive measures: health education, for example, explaining how to wash hands properly, setting up isolation wards and road maps within the health facilities, with the aim of preventing further infections.

And one thing is essential: measures to protect the health personnel! 

Only coordinated measures can prevent disaster

In the next weeks, we will have to find a balance between our response to COVID-19 and the humanitarian crisis.

We must not allow other diseases such as malaria, measles, meningitis, or cholera to spread and claim as many, if not more, victims than the virus.

Furthermore, we still know almost nothing about how the coronavirus interacts with other diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, or how it affects malnourished children with poor immune systems.

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MSF provides free healthcare in Burkina Faso
MSF provides free healthcare in Burkina Faso

Those involved in humanitarian aid must continue to focus on the ongoing humanitarian crisis while fighting the coronavirus pandemic – otherwise, we risk an even greater humanitarian tragedy.

We must adapt quickly to the new situation

The restrictions imposed to limit the global spread of COVID-19 pose significant challenges for humanitarian organisations.

We need both experienced local and international personnel to carry out our work. But at the moment our ability to send colleagues to Burkina Faso is limited, at a time when we are facing several challenges at once.

We are concerned that the supply of medical resources and medicines will become more difficult due to international restrictions.

We must not allow other diseases such as malaria, measles, meningitis, or cholera to spread and claim as many, if not more, victims than the virus.

Not to mention the risk of not being able to import protective equipment for health workers working in the front line.

We must, therefore, adapt quickly to this new context, which will probably have consequences for the population. The population is already severely affected.

The number of displaced persons is expected to reach almost a million soon, while at the same time pressure is increasing on the local communities that receive the refugees.

The indirect consequences of the coronavirus pandemic could take the emergency situation to a new level.

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Read more: From our teams responding to COVID-19

COVID-19: Helping Germany's most vulnerable

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