If you feel sick or need advice on COVID-19 in Somalia, all you have to do is call 449 – the government’s toll-free hotline set up to offer fast, effective access to emergency health support.
The emergency number is open 24 hours a day and run by young volunteers from different backgrounds, including health workers and students from local medical colleges.
In total, they receive more than 8,000 calls a day from the public. Some callers are given advice; those with symptoms of the disease are taken to designated hospitals by an ambulance service.
These services are critical in a country where health education is limited and there are widely held misunderstandings about the virus, including how it spreads and how it can be treated.
The doctors who work at the helpline are divided into three teams, explains volunteer Liban Abdi, so that callers can quickly get the most suitable response.
The first team provides general information on the virus and how to keep safe. The second deals with less serious cases and advises callers to visit the hospital if necessary. The third deals with critical cases, providing advice and arranging ambulances to De Martini Hospital.
“We only refer to the hospital the critically ill and those with underlying health conditions such as blood pressure, asthma or diabetes,” explains Dr. Deka Adan, who works at the centre. “We ask others to stay home because our healthcare system is weak and we want to avoid overloading the hospitals.”
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has supported the centre with office equipment, staffing and communications a part of a wider COVID-19 response including mass awareness campaigns, equipment for medical facilities, support to keep political processes running during lockdown and provision of hygiene supplies to prisons and other government facilities.