An interview with Myriam Mingou, Executive Director of Association Sénégalaise pour le Bien-Étre Familial, on the impact of COVID-19 in Senegal.
How has Senegal been affected by COVID-19?
Senegal recorded its first case of COVID-19 on 1 March, and by 1 May there were 1,002 cases, including nine deaths.
Senegal has declared a state of emergency and established a curfew from 8pm to 6am. The authorities then closed the air and land borders (except for freighters), banned gatherings, demonstrations and transport, and there was a temporary closure of public places (schools, universities, places of worship, etc.), as well as the introduction of social distancing. Wearing a mask has become compulsory.
What impact is coronavirus having on sexual and reproductive health (SRH) in Senegal?
SRH represents a major public health issue in times of epidemics because women and girls can be more exposed. It is essential that we continue to offer services for treating infections and for family planning follow-ups, pregnancy and childbirth.
As such, our clinics are still functional. At one of our clinics in Dakar, there is a drop in attendance – before the pandemic we were getting 150 to 160 patients per day, now we get about 100. In Saint Louis, the clinic usually receives 1,400 patients per month but that was down to 1,200 in April. The clinics of Louga and Kold have seen a drastic drop of more than 60%. It’s probably because many of our clients (mainly women) live in rural areas and can’t travel because of the restrictions imposed by the government.
What kind of services do you provide, and which ones have been worst hit?
We are continuing to raise awareness about reproductive sexual health especially for key populations through radio programmes and home visits.
Mobile clinics, which provide free consultations and family planning etc. are no longer allowed by the health authorities. This reduces access to health care for the most disadvantaged populations.
Are frontline staff still able to go into communities and deliver services?
Some local communication activities are being conducted. For example, in Matam in the north of the country, programmes are being organized at radio stations to give key messages in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, in partnership with “Action Contre La Faim” with the Teenager Nutrition for Change Project.
Teams of our staff have been making local visits to spread awareness on handwashing techniques, disinfection and social distancing. Furthermore they helped set up washing points with recyclable bottles. Young volunteers mobilized with the administrative and territorial authorities to raise awareness in the markets, on the respect of barrier measures in places like Kolda and Casamance.
With more resources, our association could organize other awareness activities, since the state is more focused on the medical aspects of the pandemic.
Senegal seems to be proactive in the coronavirus response – can you tell us about your involvement?
Clinical staff have received COVID-19 training about prevention and protection measures to protect themselves.
A sorting system has been introduced at the main entrance of every clinic so that suspected cases have their temperatures taken. A temporary isolation room has also been set up to receive possible cases. At the point of first contact with the clinic, hand-washing is required of everyone and people who are not wearing a protective mask are denied entry. The waiting rooms have been reorganized to allow social distancing.
What message do you have for the people and your staff in Senegal when it comes to SRH services and COVID-19?
For our health, that of our families, and the survival of our communities, let us respect the barrier measures. The urgency of COVID-19 should not exclude the management of maternal and infant mortality. And finally to quote President Macky Sall, "let us leave neither life nor our lives to the virus."