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In Somalia, COVID-19 Fears Prevent Maternal Healthcare, Child Vaccines

By Mohamed Sheikh Nor September 07, 2020

Somali health authorities say the number of maternal checkups and childhood vaccinations have plunged during the pandemic as many people fear catching COVID-19 at clinics and hospitals. Healthcare workers worry the lack of medical care for pregnant women and children could result in a wave of common diseases that take more victims than COVID-19.

Amina Mustaf and her family were displaced by drought three years ago and have since been living in a Mogadishu relief camp.

Her three-week-old baby needed vaccinations, but she was too afraid of catching COVID-19 to go to a clinic.

She said that it is a common fear among mothers in the camp.

Mustaf said that she couldn't go to a health care facility because of this COVID-19 spreading across the world. she feared for her health and that of her child, she said. Mustaf said because they are scared of contracting the virus at a health facility they missed important pre-natal and post-natal vaccinations, all because of COVID-19.

Somali healthcare workers are alarmed by the sharp decline in child immunizations and visits to clinics during the pandemic.

Volunteers like Sadia Ahmed, with local health group SORRDO, are going door-to-door urging families to vaccinate their children.

But it's no easy task, she said.

Every mother, whether pregnant or lactating, is not ready to come to the health facility for vaccination, said Ahmed. Most fear contracting COVID-19.

If left unaddressed, Somalia could see a jump in respiratory infections, measles, and malnutrition, said the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

The ICRC said visits to Somali Red Crescent clinics by children under five and pregnant women dropped by more than half in the first seven months of this year compared to 2019.

ICRC health officer Ahmed Nur said the risk of them catching common diseases is high, especially among the vulnerable.

He said COVID-19 has badly affected the entire country and forced mothers and children not to come to health centers for vaccinations in fear of the virus. Nur said the fall in vaccinations will result in more and more children contracting contagious diseases.

Somalia's Health Ministry admits there is a problem.

The ministry's national director of efforts to fight COVID-19, Abdirizaq Yusuf, said they are taking measures.

He said that they indeed realized vaccination numbers have dramatically dropped due to the emergence of Covid-19.

Nonetheless, Somalia's Health Ministry is exploring new ways to urge people to embrace vaccinations, as a way of preventing contagious diseases and reducing child mortality rates.

Flooding around Mogadishu in recent months also risks waterborne disease, warns the ICRC.

The floods are further straining Somalia's pandemic-stretched health system and only adding to the worries of mothers like Mustaf.

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