The Mayor of Somalia’s capital has warned of hundreds of deaths that he suspects have been caused by the new coronavirus, suggesting that actual death toll may be 10 times higher than official figures.
In an address at the beginning of May to the Somali COVID-19 Task Force, Mogadishu Mayor Omar Mohamud Mohamed said that “the highest deaths we recorded in a single day was 49 people and the lowest was 22, and this is just between the 19th of April and the beginning of May.”
Given the higher-than-usual death rates for Mogadishu, he said that he calculates that the death toll among COVID-19 infected patients in the capital could be “almost 500 people”.
According to Johns Hopkins University figures, Somalia has 1,219 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 52 deaths.
The comments by the mayor are echoed by workers in one of the city’s largest cemeteries, who said they were preparing more funerals than ever before.
“I remember a few days ago, we were burying between 15 to 25 dead bodies a day, and this has never happened before,” said Ali Dhere, a grave digger.
Many families in Somalia do not register deaths, but prefer to simply bury their dead on the day they die in accordance with Islamic customs. This makes data on deaths and causes of deaths extremely difficult to tabulate.
Most patients are also more likely to stay at home than seek medical care in a country where many can’t afford to be hospitalized. There also just aren’t a lot of hospitals, even in Mogadishu, to take care of COVID-19 patients.
The Martini Hospital was recently renovated with Italian government funding after housing squatters for decades. Since reopening in February this year, it has mostly dealt with severe cases of COVID-19.
Dr. Abdirizak Yusuf, who works at the Martini Hospital said the facility only has 76 beds, among them 20 ICU beds.
“The hospital cannot cover the needs of the population of people in Mogadishu,” he said. “That is why we need to be planning to open other hospitals. I am very worried that the hospital will be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients as the virus continues to spread.”
Somalia has one of the weakest health systems in the world following the fall of the central government in 1992 and decades of civil war.
The country is facing one of the highest case counts in the Horn of Africa region after neighboring Djibouti.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks.
For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
The vast majority of people recover.