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The GraveDiggers Truth: Covid-19 hits Somalia

By  BBC  Africa Eye  

Official figures say fewer than 100 people have died from Covid-19 in Somalia. But Mogadishu’s graveyards tell a different story. How is a country with one of the weakest health systems in the world really coping with the pandemic?

Since the first case was reported in March, Dr. Hilwa and Dr. Abdilatif have been working round the clock to treat victims of the virus. This film, shot in part by the doctors themselves, takes us onto the frontlines of the struggle to keep these patients alive. Despite their obvious bravery, the doctors are lacking vital supplies of oxygen and ventilators.

Patients are dying in the Martini hospital, but in the streets of Mogadishu normal life goes on. The government is advising people to stay at home during the day, but few here can afford to follow that advice. As the holy month of Ramadan begins, the film takes us inside one of the capital’s main mosques, where the worshippers believe that their faith will form a shield against Covid-19. This is preventing many from following medical advice.

Officially, the death toll from Covid-19 in Somalia is well below 100. But BBC Africa Eye has been to one of Mogadishu’s main cemeteries, Barakat, where the grave diggers tell us they’ve dug more than 2000 graves since January—many more than normal. Many of those being buried here showed symptoms of Covid 19, but died undiagnosed, without ever going to hospital.

Back at the Martini, Dr. Hilwa knows that some Somalis—even if they’re seriously ill—are too scared to come here. Many question the quality of care, or suspect this is a government detention centre which they will not be allowed to leave. Some have branded Martini “the hospital of death.”

But despite the fear and shortages of equipment, Dr. Hilwa and Dr. Abdilatif are saving many lives. The film follows one old lady, Mama Fardumo, as she recovers from Covid-19 and returns to her children and grandchildren.

At the Barakat cemetery, the grave diggers are still working. But Dr. Hilwa and Dr. Abdilatif have not given up on their patients—or on their country, Somalia.