Skip to main content

In Burkina Faso, COVID-19 fight complicated by war, displacement


Just like much of the remainder of the globe, the coronavirus pandemic is getting ready to upend standard of living in Burkina Faso.
Starting on Monday, all schools and universities within the West African nation will remain shut for the remainder of the month.

Authorities have also banned gatherings of over 50 people, resulting in large events like concerts and football matches being postponed or cancelled.

In the capital, Ouagadougou, popular venues for socialising were noticeably quieter over the weekend while some residents said they might avoid travel between cities.

War, displacement, weak health system
Burkina Faso has up to now registered seven cases of the highly infectious respiratory illness called COVID-19 but NGOs fear many cases could go undiagnosed during a country whose healthcare system has been gutted by conflict.

An impoverished country of some 20 million people, Burkina Faso has in recent years been gripped by escalating violence that has spread across the Sahel region to many countries including Niger and Mali.

Last year, clashes between government forces, bandits and armed groups linked to ISIL and al-Qaeda led to over 2,000 deaths in Burkina Faso and made over 700,000 people to escape their homes.

"In Burkina Faso, the conflict has severely compromised the health infrastructure," Laurent Saugy, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation within the country, told the Al Jazeera news.

"Some 1.5 million people have seen their access to healthcare cut or significantly reduced since 2019, thanks to the escalation of violence."

Concerns over COVID-19 rose on Thursday when it emerged that the primary case registered in Ethiopia involved a Japanese national who travelled there from Burkina Faso on March 4.

At the time, Burkina Faso had logged two cases - a pair who had recently returned to Burkina Faso from a visit to France.

Amid worries over a possible major outbreak, NGOs warned that a mixture of conflict, displacement and weak health infrastructure may lead to a devastating loss of life.

"In a best-case scenario, which is what we're living in at the instant, we might have only some cases," Jerry-Jonas Mbasha, cluster coordinator for the globe Health Organization (WHO) in Burkina Faso, told Al Jazeera.

"In a worst-case scenario, we could see fatality rates five to 10 times beyond the world average."

The WHO has said that 3.4 percent of individuals with reported COVID-19 infections round the world have died.

Citing Burkina Faso's "very weak" healthcare system, Mbasha said the country's escalating conflict could "deepen" the matter.

"A lot of individuals are displaced and health facilities are closed thanks to insecurity and conflict. That's another factor that might prevent the health systems from detecting early cases," he added.

Response plan
Al Jazeera has learned that, as of Wednesday, there have been only 400 coronavirus test kits available in Burkina Faso, with only three health facilities within the country ready to perform the tests - two in Ouagadougou and one within the second city of Bobo Dioulasso.

On Thursday, the govt. released its official COVID-19 response and prevention plan which stipulates nine key pillars, including the surveillance of entry points, the establishment of rapid intervention teams and an epidemiological closed-circuit television, among others.

The plan requires that a committee be founded to oversee each of the pillars but it's still not clear if these committees are established, and sources have told Al Jazeera the govt. response has been slow.

A government spokesperson couldn't be reached for comment.

Saugy stressed that the conflict would be a significant consider how coronavirus plays go into the country and said the main target should get on enabling those displaced and their host communities to access critical information and healthcare within the event of a pandemic.

"A weakened health system thanks to conflict and violence impairs the capacity for detection, management and also the follow-up of cases of sickness, which successively may increase the chance of transmission."

For his part, Mbasha called on the international community to step in to assist avoid a significant crisis.

"We need technical and financial partners to come back in and protect Burkina Faso, as do other African countries which face the identical situation."

As of Sunday, there have been 273 confirmed cases and 6 deaths in 26 countries across Africa.

Comments