SEATTLE, Washington — Although Guinea-Bissau began preparing for the COVID-19 crisis early, the country still saw an increase in cases. As of August 5, there were 1,981 cases of COVID-19 in Guinea-Bissau with 803 recoveries and 27 deaths. Before the first cases of the virus, the government had started implementing procedures to limit the spread of COVID-19.
First Cases and State of Emergency Announced
On January 30, the General Directorate of Epidemiology of Guinea-Bissau began monitoring and tracing travelers once they arrived at Osvaldo Vieira International Airport in Guinea-Bissau. To assist the government on preventive measures, the International Organization Migration (IOM) began training border agents on how to use surveillance systems to monitor and collect data on incoming travelers. The IOM also helped train community leaders on different ways to stop the spread of COVID-19.
The discovery of Guinea-Bissau’s first two cases of COVID-19 occurred on March 25. According to Reuters, both a U.N employee and an Indian citizen tested positive for the virus. Additionally, four government officials also tested positive for COVID-19, including Prime Minister Nuno Gomes Nabiam. On March 27, the government of Guinea-Bissau declared a state of emergency to limit the spread of the virus. The state of emergency order called for the closing of the borders by land, air and sea transportation. Also, the order only allowed people to travel within the country between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. As cases of COVID-19 continue to increase, officials extended the state of emergency several times and is still in effect.
Guinea-Bissau’s Rapid Response to COVID-19
Other nations noticed the rapid response from Guinea-Bissau along with other African countries. The country was quick to implement laws and guidelines to limit social gatherings and screen people coming into the country. One of the reasons for Guinea-Bissau’s rapid response is the fear circulating within the national and international community.
Citizens worry that if COVID-19 cases increase in Guinea-Bissau, its healthcare system could face devasting problems. This is because advanced healthcare systems with more doctors, medical equipment and facilities either suffered or are currently suffering from the influx of people needing urgent care due to severe symptoms of the virus. Guinea-Bissau only has 50 intensive care beds and 10% of the necessary equipment to deal with COVID-19.
To help Guinea-Bissau prepare for the pandemic, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Guinea-Bissau’s government are playing a crucial role in educating the public about the virus. To reach the public about preventing the spread of COVID-19, UNICEF regularly posts on social media about the virus. UNICEF is also working with the Secretary of State for Social Communication and popular Bissau-Guinean singers to use music on national television to spread COVID-19 prevention techniques.
WASH and COVID-19 Prevention Training
Communicating about the coronavirus is not the only way UNICEF is helping. UNICEF is also providing public sanitation by providing 960 communities with handwashing stations across the country through the WASH program. Additionally, the U.N. is providing extra training to Guinea-Bissau’s community health workers so they can explain COVID-19 prevention practices as well as identify suspected cases. There are about 4,000 community health workers (CHW) who already help families prevent and treat malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia.
To continue helping with the crisis, UNICEF ordered medical equipment and distributed masks to at-risk groups such as journalists, policemen and military personnel. Guinea-Bissau’s government repurposed $200,000 to help with the country’s fight against coronavirus, along with other organizations like Global Partnership for Education (GPE), GAVI and MPTF that are providing grants and funds to help with COVID-19 in Guinea-Bissau.
As with the rest of the world, COVID-19 in Guinea-Bissau has changed the way of life. Early measures have been helpful in keeping the rates relatively low in the country. Hopefully, Guinea-Bissau will be able to come out on the other end of this virus stronger and better prepared for future healthcare emergencies.
– Joshua Meribole
Photo: Wikimedia Commons