The COVID-19 outbreak has posed unprecedented difficulties for countries globally, although Somalia’s current position as a nation is often sought to be unparalleled. Prior to the pandemic, Somalia was already battling an array of issues; fighting against an internal terrorist group by the name of Al-Shabab, facing natural disasters such as a recent flooding, a variety of diseases placing strain on healthcare systems with limited resources, and a large population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in overpopulated camps. The country is at higher risk for poor outcomes and is thus recognized as vulnerable on a health scale. Without the government’s ability to test widely for COVID-19, it is apparent that a region as such would require support to be able to detect, monitor and respond to their epidemic.
The nature of the virus has resulted in challenging situations but also led to the joint efforts of innovative minds. It has been over two months in which the not-for-profit organization, Flatten, has been actively working alongside the COVID-19 response team in Mogadishu, Somalia.
While in an international collaboration with the humanitarian group, Durable Solutions Unit (DSU) led by Dr.Hodan Ali and the Benadir Regional Administration, Flatten has both coordinated and implemented their digital symptom monitoring tool to further mitigate the impacts of COVID-19. To contribute to the groundwork in Somalia, the project has received funding from the European Union (EU) and the ‘in-kind’ contribution from Flatten.
Flatten’s use of technology is beneficial in educating public health officials and policymakers about the best allocation of limited resources through its ability to detect outbreaks early, monitor disease trends and provide real-time data to allow for analysis. By analyzing data about the population, Flatten is able to characterize the population to inform local authorities about the demographics necessary to carry out actions.
There are over 400 trained volunteers on the ground that have been going door to door, using a phone or tablet, to digitally collect virus symptoms along with socio-economic and demographic data of households. In a span of 6 days, over 25,000 individuals have been surveyed within the city of Mogadishu. The goal is to survey about 75,000 individuals and work on further advancements that can be utilized in Somalia, such as the use of a phone line to self-report and provide information.
There are three unique aspects in which Flatten intends to support Somalia in the fight against COVID-19.
The Flatten team has recognized that it is critical to assist developing nations in combating the virus, but it is paramount to empower the local authorities and individuals to attain a future ahead. In times of crisis, vulnerable countries may require short-term assistance, although there are much more comprehensive results through understanding the power of initiative as well as leveraging the use of policies and tools.
Empowerment is centred around the main objective of ensuring individuals have the opportunity to live a better life through attaining skills and knowledge to reach their potential as well as take action to overcome obstacles. For Flatten specifically, this involves increasing capacity at which local authorities can make informed choices and execute desired intentions through the use of many resources.
Transformational development can only occur if locals are fully integrated and empowered as change agents through the process. The epidemic in Somalia is consistently evolving, although the most recent months have been the most critical. As an organization in international collaboration, Flatten is assisting the fight of COVID-19 in Somalia through building datasets, informing governments, and empowering authorities to carry on data-driven solutions so that they can be ready to fight future crises.
Author: Sejal Jain