Burkina Faso was already facing a complex humanitarian and security crisis for the five years at least when COVID-19 arrived in the country, with the first case notified on March 9, 2020.
Growing violence and insecurity due to mounting insurgent armed groups have affected 2,2 million people and the displacement of over one million civilians. As populations have fled conflict-affected areas, the demand for health services has continued to grow while attacks have decreased the number of functioning health facilities. In September 2020, 95 health facilities were closed which represents 8,5% of the infrastructure in the 6 regions affected by insecurity. The provision of quality health services has been hindered by a weak health system marked with poor data and low-quality comprehensive emergency health service including COVID-19 response.
Despite these major challenges, the country has cautiously slowed down on drastic measures including opened back schools and airports after lockdown and border closure measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Shaping Burkina Faso's fight against COVID-19 response
WHO's Burkina Faso country office has been providing valuable support in the country throughout the crisis.
"WHO's guidance and assistance has been instrumental since the beginning of the health emergency" said Dr Alimata J. Diarra-Nama, WHO representative based in Ouagadougou. "We helped prepare the country from the beginning with a sound support by ensuring that preparedness and response plans are finalized and implemented to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic"
Dr Diarra-Nama, who has been helping lead the country's response throughout, says she starts every day by updating herself with the latest WHO information about the pandemic so to be ready to respond to situations in relation with the ongoing response in the course of the day. Guidance and information has continuously been shared with the national authorities and have shaped Burkina Faso's overall response, she says.
"WHO's support to the country has included so far: up to date partners with evidences on the new virus and COVID-19 disease dynamic at global and regional level, logistics and supply chain, deployment of Epidemiologist consultants to support national response in setting comprehensive surveillance activities; Infection Prevention and Control, Risks Communication and Community Engagement as well as security assessment to help teams get to hard-to-reach parts of the country. WHO helped the country strengthen its capacities at every level,” Dr Diarra-Nama says.
Strengthening response mechanism to COVID-19
With WHO's support, thirteen new triage centres have been constructed in health facilities of the country since the beginning of the pandemic and Dr Diarra-Nama believes they will be of great use keeping health workers and patients safe from infection even when the peak of COVID-19 disease has passed.
Earlier on during the outbreak, the country's laboratory had a shortage of transport media for test samples with demand high and supply low around the world.
Despite great odds, according to Dr Diarra-Nama, health authorities were able to combine expertise from around the country with expertise from WHO to produce the supplies themselves while they waited for more to be shipped in.
“The health minister is very confident in WHO's ability to help the country. Any time there was a problem, a lack of supplies, they knew they could count on WHO, 24 hours a day,” says the Who Representative.
WHO support to Burkina Faso during the COVID-19 emergency has been crucial on several other fronts:
In April the Organization supported the training of over 550 health workers on best practices in treating the new virus (in French).
WHO facilitated a large donation of medical supplies and a mission of Chinese experts to the country to help fight the disease based on China's early experience, also in April (in French).
Burkina Faso received additional donations of medical equipment and the assistance of more than 60 WHO staff in the country as well as substantial financial assistance from WHO (in French).
Evaluating and strengthening Burkina Faso's laboratory capacity has been one of WHO's priorities during the outbreak (in French).
Although Burkina Faso has been affected less by the pandemic than its neighbouring countries, 1,733 confirmed cases with 56 death as of 16 September 2020. Dr Diarra-Nama explains that one of the ravages of the disease is that it has diminished other essential health services much like elsewhere around the world.
“During the first three months it was all about COVID, COVID, COVID. Now we're in a phase where we can focus on other public health problems especially maintaining continuity of health services which include preventive and curative services, especially for the most vulnerable populations, such as children, older persons, people living with chronic conditions, minorities and people living with disabilities,” says Dr Diarra-Nama.
With her colleagues she has resumed focus on other health issues such as malaria, polio vaccination, HIV, and mother and child health.
“We have to make sure that despite COVID-19, we are not neglecting other issues.”
Many challenges remain in Burkina Faso's fight against the virus, however. Stigma against people who was tested positive, misinformation, and resistance to safety measures are issues that need more attention, according to Dr Diarra-Nama.
To better inform the citizens of Burkina Faso, Dr Diarra-Nama says her colleagues are in regular contact with the country's different communities stressing the importance of accurate information and safe behaviour based on WHO guidelines and recommendations.