Muna, who has recovered from COVID-19 in Somalia, can finally share her experience, especially amid prevailing misconceptions.

Somalia has one of the highest COVID-19 caseloads in the East and Horn of Africa. As of 21 July, over 3,135 people were infected and 93 had died. There were 1,464 recoveries.

“I was so scared when I heard people saying that the virus doesn’t have any cure,” says Muna.

As if the disease was not bad enough, the 27-year-old also had to face stigma. “I felt ashamed because I was sick, and some people even named me ‘Muna Corona’.”

Muna returned to Somalia in 2017 having spent three years in Sudan, in an attempt to reach Europe. Since her return, she has been supported by the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration in the Horn of Africa, to help re-establish herself in her community.

Yet Muna received little support from those around her when she fell ill in April. She is not the only one who had to fight the disease alone.

According to Somali Public Agenda, a non-profit research institution in Mogadishu, many people who show symptoms hesitate to seek medical advice for fear of being quarantined and ostracized.

At the same time, misinformation has been spreading across the country, creating an atmosphere in which discrimination thrives. An assessment conducted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on internally displaced persons (IDPs) in May, showed that despite having heard of COVID-19, 35 per cent of respondents in Khada and 29 per cent in Deynile IDP sites said they did not know anything about the disease. Both sites are in Mogadishu.

In Hargeisa and Kismayo some believed that mosquito bites and blood transfusion were among the main conduits for COVID-19. Moreover, anecdotal evidence from IOM staff indicates that in some rural areas, those wearing a face mask are believed to be carriers of the virus thus discouraging many from wearing them.

For Muna, the disease came swiftly. After returning from a wedding in Baidoa, a city 200km southeast of Mogadishu, she started to cough and experienced episodes of intense fever. None of her family members suspected that she might have contracted the virus.

“I heard about COVID-19 in the media and decided to self-isolate at home,” she says. “My family continued to interact with me even though I tried to keep some distance.”

At the beginning of April, the level of awareness was still very low in the country despite efforts by the federal government and international organizations. Luckily for Muna, some of her closest friends advised her to visit the hospital and seek medical assistance.

Once at De Martino Hospital, Muna tested positive to COVID-19 and due to a pre-existing asthma, the attending health workers took very strict measures to support her recovery.

“I was isolated in the hospital for two weeks and no one could come to see me,” she explains. “I struggled to breathe and couldn’t even stand up to go the toilet.”

Three weeks later, Muna’s health had improved enough for her to return home and is now assisting to raise awareness within the community.

“I’m encouraging my community to strictly adhere to the prevention measures of COVID-19 shared by health agencies and showing them that you can recover from the disease and have a normal life again.”

Through the EU-IOM Joint Initiative, IOM monitored Muna’s case via its Health Officer during her hospitalization and now provides her with regular medical follow-up as well as bi-weekly psychological support over the phone.

“We are aware of the challenges some people face in the country after getting COVID-19, and we are ready to support efforts to combat this stigma,” says Elaine Joyce, the IOM Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Specialist.

IOM works closely with the Federal Government of Somalia to support the country’s COVID-19 response efforts. Raising awareness about the virus has been among the main activities conducted by the organization across the country.

IOM has also supported De Martino Hospital with oxygen concentrators, ventilators, personal protective equipment and has funded the deployment of medical specialists.

About the EU-IOM Joint Initiative

Launched in December 2016 with the support of the European Union (EU) Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, the programme brings together 26 African countries of the Sahel and Lake Chad region, the Horn of Africa, and North Africa, the EU and IOM around the goal of ensuring migration is safer, more informed and better governed for both migrants and their communities.