Africa was spared during the early phases of the pandemic, though numbers of people across the continent who have developed COVID-19 have now risen to more than 34,000.
All countries in the region are now enacting various measures to try to contain the spread of the outbreak, with airport closures, travel bans, curfews and lockdowns. This region is of high operational volume for MSF and across East Africa we are working hard to keep providing essential medical services, taking steps to keep patients and staff safe as well as launching new activities to respond directly to the outbreak.
MSF’s global concerns for people in vulnerable groups are particularly relevant in East Africa. We are concerned about the impact on people living in informal settlements like Kibera, refugee camps like Dadaab, or conflict-affected areas such as South Sudan, as well as migrants detained, travelling or being deported in congested conditions.
We are also concerned for people with underlying health conditions such as HIV, TB or non-communicable diseases (NCDs), of which there are high burdens in certain countries in this region. Another concern is the limited intensive care capacity to treat severe cases, as well as the challenges, felt globally for supply and the ability to move staff to project locations.
According to UNHCR, in the East and Horn of Africa subregion in 2019 there were some 4.6 million refugees and asylum-seekers mainly from South Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as well as an additional 9.5 million internally displaced people (IDPs), mainly in South Sudan, Somalia, Sudan and Ethiopia.
According to the UN, East Africa is the second-worst affected region globally for HIV/AIDS, after Southern Africa. In Kenya, for example, 1.6 million people live with HIV, in Uganda 1.4 million people are affected and in Tanzania, 1.6 million people have HIV/AIDS. The picture is varied across the region, with 190,000 people affected in South Sudan.
According to IOM, at least 139,000 migrants, most of them Ethiopians, crossed from the Horn of Africa to Yemen with the aim to reach Saudi Arabia or other Gulf countries in 2019. This figure was higher than those who crossed the Mediterranean to reach Europe in the same period. At the same time, 10,000 Ethiopian migrants have been deported on average every month from Jeddah to Addis since March 2017. After a short break, deportations of Ethiopian migrants have continued despite the pandemic.
Malaria is also widespread in East Africa. According to the WHO World Malaria Report in 2018, 21,500 people died of malaria in Tanzania, followed by 13,000 in Uganda, 3,200 in Rwanda and 2000 in Kenya. The WHO has also recently warned that cases of the disease in Sub Saharan Africa could double due to the Coronavirus outbreak, due to border restrictions and disruption to prevention programmes.
According to the FAO, the desert locust upsurge remains alarming in the region, particularly in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, where it poses an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods. In the six East African countries worst affected or at risk of locusts - Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania - around 20 million people are already experiencing acute food insecurity.