Africa border closures maroon medical aid

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Medical charity Alima planned to open an emergency operating theatre last week in Burkina Faso, but the project stalled because the country closed its borders before a surgeon and anaesthetist could fly in, its director told Reuters.

In Central African Republic, health officials say a measles vaccination campaign may be cancelled because of delay in the supply of vials normally flown in from France.

Coronavirus infected more than 3 000 people In sub-Saharan Africa and killed about 100, prompting some of the world’s poorest countries to shut land and sea borders.

The restrictions, meant to shield fragile health systems from a mass outbreak, have a troubling side effect: aid organisations struggle to keep supplies and personnel moving in areas where millions rely on outside help for basic care.

“Travel restrictions put in place by governments jeopardise our ability to get staff and humanitarian aid to where needed,” said Patrick Youssef, the International Committee of the Red Cross’s incoming regional director for Africa.

Organisations including Medecins Sans Frontieres rushed personnel in before border closures and have supplies to keep facilities running for the coming weeks because governments kept borders open for humanitarian aid.

Problems are appearing.

Aid workers travelling commercially can no longer reach the front lines, they told Reuters, leaving those there to continue working, risking burnout in high-pressure conditions.

Three of six senior Alima staff members in Niger cannot return because of border closures, said Executive Director Augustin Augier. Alima has to consider closing health centres in Africa or restricting medical care to children and pregnant women if the crisis persists, he said.

MSF workers in Cameroon cannot reach operations in Nigeria, a spokeswoman said.

In landlocked Burkina Faso where nearly a million people fled a jihadist insurgency, the speed of the crisis overwhelmed an already threadbare health system and caused shortages of food and water.

Getting aid there is vital ahead of summer, when malaria and malnutrition typically skyrocket, said MSF, which suspended a measles vaccination programme while it reassesses the situation.

“We have a few months window to deploy an effective emergency aid effort on a massive scale and avert the mortality likely to begin in June,” said Dorian Job, MSF’s West Africa programme manager.

LOST SHIPMENTS, DELAYED VACCINES

Overcoming the situation will be hugely expensive. The UN launched a $2 billion appeal for a worldwide humanitarian response focused on poorer countries. Oxfam said doubling the health spending of the 85 poorest countries, many in Africa, would cost $159.5 billion.

Those on the ground say a lack of mobility is hobbling them.

Christian charity World Vision ordered a shipment of masks, gloves and hygiene equipment to combat coronavirus in Central African Republic, where at least a million people are uprooted by conflict.

CAR’s situation is critical. The country of five million has three ventilators to treat the severe lung illness coronavirus brings on, the Norwegian Refugee Council said.

World Vision’s shipment was due to arrive on March 18 but is lost.

“It left Accra, Ghana and then became stranded in Lagos,” said Philippe Guiton, World Vision’s director of operations. Eventually the shipment reached Belgium, from where it was supposed to head to CAR, though nobody can track its progress.

“Airline regulations change every day, it’s impossible to anticipate.”

A measles outbreak that infected 5 000 people threatens to go unchecked as vaccines normally flown in on Air France are delayed due to flight disruptions, health officials said.

The first phase of a campaign to vaccinate two million children took place this month. The second phase may be stalled.

“If doses do not arrive by early April, at the latest, the vaccination campaign will be postponed,” said the WHO’s Bangui representative, Severin Ritter von Xylander.