The COVID-19 pandemic has affected a vast number of countries in many different ways. One of the most significant impacts has been restrictions on the transport of goods and people which, in countries such as Somalia, have made it increasingly challenging to get much-needed medical support to populations in remote locations.
The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on 16 March and the number of cases has now reached almost 3,000. Therefore, ensuring the population has access to vital health support is a critical part of making sure that these numbers stay low and that the country can recover quickly.
It’s an especially challenging time for Somalia: as well as the impacts of COVID-19 on lives and livelihoods, flooding has affected almost one million people, disrupting critical infrastructure. At the same time the country is experiencing the worst desert locust upsurge in 25 years.
The recent heavy rains and consequent flooding have made it more urgent, and also more difficult, to reach vulnerable communities. Many key roads have been rendered impassable, so air transport is the most viable way of getting to these places. Some locations – as the runways have been washed away – are only accessible by helicopter, resulting in further access challenges.
WFP UNHAS helicopter getting ready for takeoff. Photo: WFP / Pray Gwatinyanya
So how can these challenges be overcome? Through coordination, partnerships and, above all, teamwork.
WFP, through its Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), together with the Logistics Cluster, has been working with the Government of Somalia supporting the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Health and Human Services (MoH); through chartering a combination of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, medical staff and key COVID-19 supplies have flown to areas across Somalia which are inaccessible by any other means of transport.
Response teams were flown to 11 locations in just two weeks - Galkayo, Beletweyne, Burte Bulo, Afmadow, Kismayo, Dhushamareb, Dollow, Bardera, Guriel, Garbaherey and Hudur. These flights flew 162 passengers and more than 11 metric tonnes of essential supplies to support the Government’s COVID-19 response, such as such syringes and hand sanitisers as well as tents for clinics. Since the beginning of May, 300 passengers have been transported by UNHAS on 36 flights to 13 destinations.
Under the auspices of the COVID-19 National Coordination Committee, the Ministry of Health and Human Services, with support from the Office of the Prime Minister, was able to deliver key medical & hygiene supplies, collect testing samples and train key medical personnel in 22 locations across all Federal Member States in the country. The supplies contained Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits, medicines, hospital beds & utensils, oxygen concentrators, and other material purchased by the Federal Government of Somalia or donated by other countries for Somalia’s COVID-19 response.
“WFP, through the Logistics Cluster and UNHAS, has provided vital support to Somalia’s COVID-19 response to reach remote areas across Somalia at a time when the country was still facing travel restrictions to contain the spread of the virus. We will continue to count on the logistical expertise from WFP to continue to provide assistance to our citizens across the country,” said Abdullahi Hamud, State Minister, Office of the Prime Minister.
Offloading COVID-19 Supplies (Huddur). Photo: Office of the Prime Minister (OPM)
And it doesn’t stop there: in addition to the transportation of medical teams within Somalia, UNHAS has been facilitating the timely movement of blood samples to key laboratories in Mogadishu and Nairobi, Kenya on behalf of the MoH. The Logistics Cluster and UNHAS also facilitated the delivery of specialised medical equipment from Nairobi, specifically polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines, which employ a technique to ‘amplify’ small segments of DNA.
The Logistics Cluster and UNHAS supported with the generous donation by the Jack Ma Foundation of PPEs and medical supplies – which were transported to field locations across Somalia.
This teamwork goes beyond air transportation: last month, a consignment of prefabricated units urgently needed to get from Mogadishu Airport to the capital’s Banadir Hospital for use by the MoH. With the support of the Logistics Cluster, through WFP, these items were offloaded and transported to their destination in good time.
Working together on streamlining the receipt and storage of COVID-19 supplies the Logistics Cluster has been collaborating with the Office of the Prime Minister and the MoH on the development of a stock inventory tool.
“We are proud to work with the Government of Somalia and to contribute our logistics expertise to its COVID-19 response. WFP, through UNHAS and the Logistics Cluster, will endeavour to support those Ministry of Health experts and crucial medical items in getting to hard-to-reach areas to help vulnerable communities,” explained Cesar V. Arroyo, WFP Somalia Country Director and Representative.