Coronavirus in Burkina Faso

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Burkina Faso's healthcare system has been weak for years. Right now, no one knows how this system will cope with the coronavirus. But there's still some good news.

The coronavirus has reached Burkina Faso. It's unclear how many cases of COVID-19 there actually are in Burkina Faso. On 31 March 2020, the government reported 261 confirmed cases and 14 deaths. The numbers are likely higher and will no doubt continue to rise.

Burkina Faso was one of the most stable countries in Africa until 2014. Then, the revolution and a coup began to eat away at this stability. Over the past couple of years, the country has experienced a rapid decline. Attacks, injuries and deaths take place almost daily. Hospitals and schools have been closed for months and more than half a million people have fled the country. We released a detailed report about the security situation back in February.

But even if Burkina Faso were at peace, the country would have relatively limited resources with which to combat the virus. There is a lack of trained healthcare workers and hospitals to treat patients with the coronavirus and only a handful of ventilators in the country.

Government has closed the borders

The authorities in Burkina Faso are aware of the gravity of the situation. The country's borders have been closed since last week and rules similar to those in Europe have been established. In addition, travel to and from villages and cities with confirmed cases has been restricted, which may end up causing problems for aid groups, according to The New Humanitarian.

Social life has come to a standstill, Gherard Grimoldi writes to us by email. He's an Italian photographer living in Burkina Faso and works with us on a regular basis.

"From 7 in the evening to 5 in the morning, it's unusually quiet in the streets of Bobo-Dioulasso," he writes. The bars are closed and even the lively hubbub at mosques has disappeared. The government has imposed a curfew. "Everything has gone quiet. The voices of the city have been silenced and the usual late-night revelry has receded into the darkness of the night."

According to Gherard, the symptoms of COVID-19 pose a great risk, since they are similar to those of malaria, yellow fever, typhoid fever and other diseases that often affect people in countries like Burkina Faso.

"How do you know you're infected when the symptoms are the same?" asks Gherard. In any case, large-scale testing is not an option. Even in Switzerland, it doesn't work all that well.

Less work while hoping for the same wages

All of this has implications for gebana Burkina Faso. Employees at the Bobo-Dioulasso factory must now keep a minimum distance of 1.5 meters from each other. To achieve this, we have divided them into groups, which work in alternate shifts.

As a result, the employees are working fewer hours per week, but at least everyone can continue to work, rather than just a few selected people.

Fewer hours mean lower wages. The good news is that we're trying to continue paying the same wages as before. There are still some unresolved issues, but we feel confident that we'll achieve our goal.

Of course, none of this can prevent a drop in productivity. For the moment, we can't predict how this will impact gebana.

Staff training, stricter hygiene measures

Training our employees was and still is just as important to us as the wages. We've trained our entire staff with help from the government. Some of the key questions were: What threat does the virus pose? What are the symptoms? How can you prevent getting sick? What should you do if you have symptoms?

Employees must take their temperature at the factory entrance. Masks are now mandatory for all workers, both in the production areas and in the back office. Regular hand washing and disinfecting were already standard practice, but protocols are now stricter.

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