Conflict and Health (Jun 2021)

Lockdowns, lives and livelihoods: the impact of COVID-19 and public health responses to conflict affected populations - a remote qualitative study in Baidoa and Mogadishu, Somalia

  • Dorien H. Braam,
  • Sharath Srinivasan,
  • Luke Church,
  • Zakaria Sheikh,
  • Freya L. Jephcott,
  • Salome Bukachi

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 15, no. 1
pp. 1 – 11


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Abstract Background Authorities in Somalia responded with drastic measures after the first confirmed COVID-19 case in mid-March 2020, closing borders, schools, limiting travel and prohibiting most group functions. However, the impact of the pandemic in Somalia thereafter remained unclear. This study employs a novel remote qualitative research method in a conflict-affected setting to look at how some of the most at-risk internally displaced and host populations were impacted by COVID-19, what determined their responses, and how this affected their health and socio-economic vulnerability. Methods We conducted a remote qualitative study, using Katikati, a 1-to-1 conversation management and analysis platform using short message service (SMS) developed by Lark Systems with Africa’s Voices Foundation (AVF), for semi-structured interviews over three months with participants in Mogadishu and Baidoa. We recruited a gender balanced cohort across age groups, and used an analytical framework on the social determinants of health for a narrative analysis on major themes discussed, triangulating data with existing peer-reviewed and grey literature. Results The remote research approach demonstrated efficacy in sustaining trusted and meaningful conversations for gathering qualitative data from hard-to-reach conflict-affected communities. The major themes discussed by the 35 participants included health, livelihoods and education. Two participants contracted the disease, while others reported family or community members affected by COVID-19. Almost all participants faced a loss of income and/or education, primarily as a result of the strict public health measures. Some of those who were heavily affected economically but did not directly experienced disease, denied the pandemic. Religion played an important role in participants’ beliefs in protection against and salvation from the disease. As lockdowns were lifted in August 2020, many believed the pandemic to be over. Conclusions While the official COVID-19 burden has remained relatively low in Somalia, the impact to people’s daily lives, income and livelihoods due to public health responses, has been significant. Participants describe those ‘secondary’ outcomes as the main impact of the pandemic, serving as a stark reminder of the need to broaden the public health response beyond disease prevention to include social and economic interventions to decrease people’s vulnerability to future shocks.