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UN, Partners Take COVID-19 Prevention to Vulnerable People's Camps

A health worker, center, distributes leaflets on how people should protect themselves from the new coronavirus, in Lagos, Nigeria, March 31, 2020.
A health worker, center, distributes leaflets on how people should protect themselves from the new coronavirus, in Lagos, Nigeria, March 31, 2020.

The United Nations in Nigeria is extending COVID-19 prevention and preparation measures to the camps in the northeast that house hundreds of thousands of people displaced by Boko Haram violence.

Residents of IDP camps in Nigeria's Borno State are now made to wash their hands regularly at wash basins installed all over the camps.

Camps in Maiduguri, Jere, Bama, Banki, Pulka, Gwoza, and Gubio have posters and flyers reminding people of the importance of good hygiene and social distancing.

This is part of the U.N.'s COVID-19 emergency response strategy launched last week for the displaced and vulnerable people in Nigeria's northeast.

The region has not recorded a single case of the virus, but aid workers fear the virus could sweep through the highly crowded camps.

Eve Sabbagh, head of public information at the United Nations Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), spoke to VOA through a messaging app.

"The United Nations is extremely concerned about vulnerable people in the country because they are at a higher risk of been exposed to the virus," she said. "We are working very closely with the ministry of humanitarian affairs and the ministry of health and state governments to take emergency preparedness and response measures so that we can mitigate the spread of a coronavirus to this crisis affected areas of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe states.”

These are the states where the Boko Haram insurgency group has killed tens of thousands of people since 2009.

An estimated 1.8 million people are displaced from their homes there and are living in densely packed camps with tents and temporary shelters.

Sabbagh says more land is needed to spread out their tents.

"Indeed, one in two camps in Borno state are congested, which basically leads to increased disease and protection risks even without the global pandemic," she said. "So, we are working very closely right now with the authorities to try and provide immediate temporary solutions like creating isolation facilities and other shelters that could solve that issue. But what is really needed is to allocate more lands for shelter and for other humanitarian actions so that we can actually improve the living conditions of the IDPs in the northeast and their ability to practice social distancing.”

Eric Batonon, country director of the Norwegian Refugee Council, NRC, an NGO operating in about 38 camps, said they're making changes in some of their programs to prevent the coronavirus from spreading.

"We have to protect the communities we serve, so we're completely rethinking our ways of working to make sure that we are delivering assistance while respecting hygiene and distance concerns," he said. "For instance, in camps we have switched to smaller groups sensitization sessions respecting social distancing and hygiene measures."

So far, the coronavirus has been detected in 14 of Nigeria’s 36 states and infected more than 200 people.