By Omair Ali
Source: World Health Organization
The pandemic has brought immense chaos, uncertainty, and disease worldwide, but Niger has been fortunate to have experienced only a small COVID-19 outbreak so far. As of October 19, 2020, there have been 1,210 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 69 deaths, and 14 active, mild cases [1,2], which is remarkable considering the nation has a population of 22 million. Niger has only seen 100 new cases since July 22nd, and there have been no new COVID-related deaths since July 17th, highlighting the success of social distancing and quarantine measures. Other countries in the region haven’t been as fortunate. For example, Nigeria has had over 50,000 cases and more than 1,000 deaths. Niger’s low case count and death rate highlight the effectiveness of measures to prioritize the prevention and treatment of COVID-19.
Containment Measures Have Been Very Effective
Given the abrupt growth of the coronavirus pandemic in March and April, Nigeriens had to quickly engineer an appropriate response to the rise in cases. Fortunately, they had key health partners who have provided logistical and on-the-ground support to assure adequate treatment, quarantining measures and prevention of COVID-19 spread. For instance, UNICEF trained healthcare workers to manage COVID-19 patients clinically and provide psychosocial services. Further, UNICEF promoted water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services and information to ensure better compliance with safety precautions .
Perhaps the most effective containment strategies have been the strict travel restrictions, curfews, and crowd restrictions that were implemented early on . During the outbreak, strict quarantine measures have limited migrant travel. These efforts have largely mitigated COVID-19 spread among migrants, but a 14-day quarantine further stressed migrants . The shutdown seems to have stabilized the outbreak. As of October 19, 10 days have gone by without a new case. However, the economic consequences of these measures for the remainder of 2020 have yet to be realized, and new events threaten Niger’s ability to be COVID-free.
Challenges to COVID-19 Containment Remain
In recent weeks, there have been new concerns about containing the COVID-19 outbreak. Migrants from Burkina Faso and Nigeria have been fleeing instability from the Boko Haram crises and some have traveled to Niger in search of safety . At the same time, smugglers in Niger have continued to traffic migrants, who are often abandoned and left at the mercy of a desert climate where temperatures can exceed 100 degrees Fahrenheit [7,8]. Fortunately, some migrants have been rescued by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and have been sheltered and quarantined. As regional violence continues to displace communities, safely managing the influx of migrants will be an ongoing challenge for Nigeriens.
Additionally, recent torrential downpours and rainy season floods have devastated communities, and as many as 432,000 Nigeriens have been displaced by the storms [9,10]. Displacement of this scale is especially concerning as it can lead to crowding and poor sanitation. However, early efforts to provide socially-distanced shelter and provisions to affected families could help Niger avoid a new outbreak in the future.
Because of the ongoing water crisis in Niger, countless communities don’t have reliable access to clean water and consequently, they are more vulnerable to disease, including COVID-19. Wells Bring Hope continues to address these challenges by drilling deep wells to access clean water reservoirs and training communities to ensure the long-term sustainability of their wells.
You can help address Niger’s water crisis by donating to Wells Bring Hope today!