In a year that COVID-19 has foisted economic turmoil and mass death on the world, devastations from decade-long conflict have continued to leave the people of Nigeria’s northeast in dire need of humanitarian aid.
Thousands of lives have been lost to lingering attacks by non-state fighters on public facilities, educational and religious institutions, markets and now more on soft targets in communities and internally-displaced persons’ camps, as the crisis recedes.
To boost the hopes of a people who had been displaced, threatened, attacked, orphaned, widowed and widowered by circumstances beyond their control, UNFPA-KOICA initiated a collaborative effort spanning 2018 to 2022 with the frontline Borno, Yobe and Adamawa (BAY) states
The collaboration covers three main areas: comprehensive maternal health, including Minimum initial services package for reproductive health and Gender Based Violence (GBV) response and services; comprehensive fistula care, including repair and rehabilitation and strengthen result-based management systems.
Increasing need to support the region’s communities, especially their health systems by not only focussing on infrastructures, but offering essential health needs for women and girls, brought about this initiative.
Borno, Yobe and Adamawa (BAY) states which are the epicentre of the crisis have been making strident efforts to emerge from the rubbles of the attacks, but flashes of success have been coming at a snail-pace, largely because of the depth of destructions that have been done to communities and lives.
This project model and strategic approach strengthens local ownership and accountability mechanisms, especially at the ward level and adopts innovative approaches that fit the local technological content. It builds on existing systems and response capacity within the communities and state.
Between January and March 2020, in Borno state, the programme reached 122,826 women and girls with gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health services; 12 women and girls friendly/safe centres were directly supported; 54 persons were trained for quality gender-based violence/sexual and reproductive health service delivery, while two gender-based violence/sexual and reproductive health coordination meetings took place.
In Adamawa, 58,879 women and girls were reached with gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health services; five women and girls friendly/safe centres received support; 71 persons were trained for quality gender-based violence/sexual and reproductive health service delivery; while five gender-based violence/sexual and reproductive health coordination meetings took place between January and March.
Also, in Yobe state, 45,635 women and girl benefitted from gender-based violence and sexual and reproductive health services; two women and girls friendly/safe centres were directly supported; 71 persons were trained for quality gender-based violence/sexual and reproductive health service delivery; as two gender-based violence/sexual and reproductive health coordination meetings were convened within the period.
These successes notwithstanding, humanitarian situation is expected to worsen in the three states due to COVID 19. The ongoing stressors experienced by the health system including disrupted health systems in many inaccessible LGAs, non-functional health facilities, lack of health care staff, overwhelmed response capacity of international humanitarian agencies and lack of resources are key in this projection.
In spite of crushing effects of COVID-19 pandemic on socio-economic activities in the northeast and other parts of Nigeria, the programme continues to record huge success in the three states where it is being implemented. The states are Borno, Yobe and Adamawa. Borno contributes more than 80% of the internally displaced persons in the three states.
However, a striking factor during this period is that precious health resources are diverted from critical areas of need to bolster access to basic healthcare nationwide. As cases increase, preventative health care including sexual and reproductive health are severely impacted. Around 7.9 million people are expected to be in need of humanitarian support, including sexual, reproductive health and gender-based violence services in the region this year – a figure that could be much higher because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Field reports also show that the pandemic places significant strain on healthcare facilities that are already overwhelmed by lack of capacity as well as some of the regular disease outbreaks in the country namely cholera, lassa fever, measles and malaria.
The reports indicate that despite these daunting challenges, the programmes have been going on in the states, with the hope things will get better in few weeks.
The following challenges were experienced in programme delivery during the first quarter of the year: Access to some affected communities in the northeast states is limited because of ongoing conflicts; limited security logistics, notably the number of Armoured Vehicles (AV) to support field operations in the region and grossly inadequate trained health care workers, especially in high burden remote areas.
Others are: huge funding gap limiting operational capacity; inability to fill key positions (GBViE and SRHR specialists) because of absence of funding; in addition to lack funds to enable Country Office to expand its humanitarian response to other regions other than the north-eastern states, though the humanitarian needs continue to rise. These challenges demand attention.
While governments of the BAY states are doing their best to rebuild their territories, increased and sustained efforts from partners would significantly help to jumpstart a new lease of life for people who have been, starved and denied basic rights of life distraught by prolonged crisis.