Eight-month-old Khadija, born in central Mali’s Sokoura internally-displaced persons (IDP) camp within Savare, happily tugs at her mother’s dress, aggressively breastfeeding, oblivious of the raging COVID-19 pandemic that has rapidly spread across the country, including their IDP camp. Ideally, if a mother is settled, there will be a steady supply of breast milk, which is not the case now. Emergence of COVID-19 has added to many other challenges for this family. Khadija’s mother shares more on the tribulations she faces and how she is coping in raising her children, including the last born.
Two months before Khadija’s birth, her mother, Fatoumata aged 24, fled their village in Bankass district that is 110 kilometres away, when they were attacked by an armed group. This compelled them to flee to Soukoura IDP camp, a relatively safer location.
“We did not take anything with us when the attack happened. Together with my husband and two sons who are four and two years respectively, I fled to protect our lives,” she recalls the day which plunged them into a new life of dependence.
Unlike their village of origin, where they had stable livelihoods that enabled them provide for their family, their lives as IDPs is forcing them to rely on humanitarian organisations like World Vision that provide relief support.
As if this was not enough, their lives were thrown into further disarray with the emergence of COVID-19, which has compelled Fatoumata and the rest of the family to adjust their lifestyles even further.
“Khadija’s current life is different from her siblings, as I have been forced to adapt to a new lifestyle to ensure she and the entire family are protected. I do not visit others. I maintain social distance, cough into my arm and frequently wash my hands with soap and water,” she tells us.
Fatoumata tells us that although COVID-19 is prevalent and has led to many social restrictions, she has ensured that her daughter receives all required immunisations from other life-threatening diseases that kill children. Although COVID-19 has presented health challenges Fatoumata understands the Importance of breast milk to her baby’s immunity, routinely allowing her to suckle. However, unlike the other children who breastfed normally, the mental and physical challenges posed after their displacement, and now COVID-19, have affected the supply of this important milk to her baby.
She considers it a blessing that despite many diseases, Khadija and the rest of the family members have not fallen ill, despite reports of positive COVID-19 cases within the IDP camp that have compelled the Government to restrict visitors accessing the camp: “Although we know that COVID-19 is real and is spreading fast, I actually do not know anyone who has contracted this disease within our camp,” she says.
Fatoumata feels sad that the lifestyle of children has been interfered with; including their school attendance. This has affected education and social activities that enable children experience normal growth. She is particularly unhappy that they were not able to celebrate Idd-il-Fitri, an important day in the Islam calendar, the way they traditionally do.
“My family and others within this camp did not hold our normal Idd celebrations as is our tradition. We had to isolate ourselves, did not visit others to bless and share meals, which was a very strange Idd", she says.
Well informed of the dangers of COVID-19 and how to prevent herself and family, Fatoumata describes the disease as strange, given the way it has altered their way of life, which she says has never been experienced before with other diseases.
Souleymane Goita, World Vision's Mali Emergency Response and COVID-19 Manager describes the pandemic as a disease that has adversely affected the humanitarian response: “Before COVID-19, the humanitarian need was huge and we experienced funding challenges. The emergence of COVID-19 has complicated our response even further,” he says.
The Response Manager further notes that the pandemic’s effect on vulnerable people is multi-dimensional, as it has affected their socio-economic status, their human capital, their health, and education. He considers it sad that the entire focus of the response is now on COVID-19 when there are other diseases such as malaria that are also lethal within Africa, adding that there is now no time to focus on these other diseases.
“We are concerned that donors who provided support are now also gravely affected and have been forced to address challenges in their own countries. Sadly, they can not address our problems the way they did in the past,” the Souleymane says. “We are thankful that the World Vision Partnership allowed us to use 20% of sponsorship funding on this response. This has enabled us implement some of the activities in our COVID-19 response plan, including distribution of prevention equipment and other materials to our staff and communities,” he concludes.
By Michael Arunga (Emergency Communications Specialist, World Vision Mali)