Conflict-affected communities in north-east Nigeria are increasingly vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic as cases begin to be reported in Borno State. An outbreak would have devastating consequences for millions of internally displaced persons (IDPs) throughout the region, a majority of whom live in overcrowded and underserviced camps.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is supporting health actors to construct 90 quarantine shelters across Borno, Adamawa and Yobe States to decrease the risk of COVID-19 spreading in densely populated camps and host communities.
“Given the rapidly evolving situation in Nigeria and across the world, we must ensure that the health of displaced and host communities is a central part of our response,” said Franz Celestin, IOM Nigeria Chief of Mission.
North-east Nigeria remains highly prone to cholera outbreaks, and other diseases such as malaria, measles, Lassa fever, meningitis and hepatitis E are endemic. Lack of access to potable water and sanitation infrastructure increase the health risks of IDPs and returnees. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that around 35 per cent of medical facilities have been destroyed or partially damaged due to the conflict.
In coordination with health partners and emergency response agencies, IOM is constructing quarantine shelters to serve internally displaced and host communities in the towns of Gwoza, Pulka, Bama, Dikwa and Monguno. These shelters will cater to people with travel and contact history who might have been exposed to the virus.
The quarantine shelters will consist of individual units with a latrine, shower, handwashing station and living quarters. Special provisions will be made for elderly groups and breastfeeding women. Facilities also have separate entrance and registration areas as well as restricted areas for health personnel.
According to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, 981 cases have been confirmed across the country as of 24 April. On 18 April, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Borno State, the epicentre of a humanitarian crisis that has forced over 1.8 million people to leave their homes.
Ten years into a brutal conflict, a total of 7.9 million people need humanitarian assistance across the three most affected states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe. An estimated 40 per cent of the displaced population reside in 298 displacement sites.
In 2019 alone, over 180,000 people fled following an upsurge in violence in the north-east. One in two camps in Borno State are currently overcrowded, which heightens the risk of disease transmission for the nearly 700,000 vulnerable people living in such conditions.
“Camp decongestion has been a challenge, but it is now a priority. I call on all stakeholders to urgently contribute to efforts being made to decongest camps in respect of people’s rights and dignity,” said Edward Kallon, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria.
To decongest camps, IOM is rehabilitating buildings to accommodate IDPs living in reception centres in Ngala town as well as relocating residents from overcrowded camps to new shelters in Monguno.
Since the start of the pandemic, IOM has been raising awareness among displaced communities on measures for preventing the spread of COVID-19 such as handwashing and coughing best practices.
In more than 80 IOM-managed sites, hygiene promoters, including camp residents, have been disseminating information in line with physical distancing. They conduct door-to-door household visits, air mobile speaker and radio announcements and host small group discussions with 15 people maximum sitting one metre apart from each other.
IOM teams are also repairing WASH facilities and installing handwashing stations while providing basic hygiene items to 48,000 individuals, including soap, and cleaning and disinfection supplies for latrines, homes, and health facilities.
As part of its overall response to the virus and support to the Nigerian authorities, IOM will manage the new UN isolation centre in Abuja and repurpose two of its laboratories for testing, once tests become available, and case management.
The nine-month project for quarantine shelters in Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states is funded by the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).