Somalia on Wednesday reported its first death of a patient suffering from COVID-19 and also said transmission was occurring among people who had no history of foreign travel.
Though the Horn of Africa country officially has just 12 positive cases, Wednesday’s announcement highlights concerns that the coronavirus may in fact be more widespread and could soon overwhelm the health system of a country that has been mired in conflict for nearly three decades.
“The first death from COVID-19 was recorded today as a 52-year-old Somali who had the virus died,” the health ministry said in a statement.
The statement also documented four new cases among patients “with no record of travelling outside the country”.
“The ministry confirms that the spread of the disease has started in the community,” it said.
Somalia was plunged into chaos with the fall of the autocrat Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, and it endures regular attacks from the militant group Al-Shabaab which is linked to Al-Qaeda.
The country is especially vulnerable to COVID-19 because of the effects of the conflict and weak public health infastructure, the UN Population Fund warned in a statement Tuesday.
“Any interventions to stop the spread of the virus in Somalia will, without a doubt, be deterred by cracks in the health system that will now deepen further unless swift action is taken by Somalia’s partners,” the body warned.
The health ministry has not said how many COVID-19 tests it has conducted, though testing in the region has been limited.
As of Tuesday, there were more than 10,200 confirmed COVID-19 cases across 52 African countries resulting in 492 deaths, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.