SEATTLE, Washington — Burkina Faso is a small, landlocked country in West Africa with a population of 20 million. Of that number, nearly 40 percent were living in poverty in 2014. This, in combination with a weakened healthcare system due to growing violence from insurgents, has placed the country in a precarious position during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is everything to know about COVID-19 in Burkina Faso.
War and Displacement in Burkina Faso
In recent years, insurgent groups that had been in Mali have made their way to Burkina Faso. The resulting surge of violence has taken a disproportionate toll on civilians. Since January 2020 alone, there have been 125 acts of violence against civilians, with many more being forced to flee their homes. As a consequence, the number of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Burkina Faso now stands at 840,000.
With much of this population living in densely-packed camps and lacking sufficient access to healthcare services, experts believe that IDPs are particularly vulnerable during the pandemic. Not only are they at risk of contracting the virus but they also risk spreading it to neighboring communities. This makes assisting IDPs a priority in combatting COVID-19 in Burkina Faso.
A Weakened Healthcare System
Even prior to the outbreak of violence, Burkina Faso has suffered from a notable dearth of health resources. Nationwide, there is fewer than one physician per 10,000 people, and a lack of funding makes it difficult to recruit needed workers. Furthermore, inexperienced leadership means that officials often misallocate what few human resources are present. As escalating violence continues to shut down healthcare centers around the country, this has only served to critically weaken an already struggling healthcare system.
This is reflected in the country’s difficulties with COVID-19. Despite the virus being present since March, Burkina Faso possesses only 400 tests and 11 ventilators available for use. Compounding this problem is the struggle to make use of the equipment the country does have. Only three healthcare facilities nationwide are able to carry out the tests. In a country of 20 million people, this makes it near impossible to test all who need it.
Measures Taken Against COVID-19
Following the lead of other governments, Burkina Faso has enacted far-reaching restrictions in an attempt to halt the spread of the virus. This has included closing the country’s borders, forbidding gatherings of more than 50 people and shutting down schools and universities. As of April 20, 2020, the Burkinese government has also enacted a curfew between the hours of 9 p.m. and 4 a.m.
Even with these preventative measures, however, the number of infections continues to rise. The Burkina Faso Ministry of Health has thus far confirmed 751 cases of COVID-19 within the country, including four of the country’s ministers. So far, 49 people have died. Recently, the UNCHR also warned that Burkina Faso has one of the fastest-growing infection rates in sub-Saharan Africa. If the virus is not contained, this could place millions at risk.
Reasons for Optimism
Although tackling COVID-19 in Burkina Faso presents a steep challenge, that has not stopped many from doing everything they can. Burkina Faso’s government, for their part, has recently released the country’s response plan, which includes nine key pillars for combatting the virus. Among them are the surveillance of entry points into the country and rapid intervention teams to treat infected individuals.
Others, like the U.N. Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), have also committed to assisting with the country’s COVID-19 response. This includes setting aside $4.1 million in global funding for Burkina Faso in the fight against COVID-19. Meanwhile, the Burkina Faso Armed Forces recently launched an operation to produce facemasks, which they then distributed to students and teachers in preparation for their eventual return to school.
COVID-19 remains a serious threat both for Burkina Faso and the world at large. One country cannot handle it alone. That is why it is essential that any COVID-19 response be a global one.
– Marlee Septak