Call centre agents handling calls from the community, centre located in Hargiesa, Somaliland. Photo by Abdiaziz Adani/Oxfam

Call centre agents handling calls from the community, centre located in Hargiesa, Somaliland. Photo by Abdiaziz Adani/Oxfam

Locally led COVID-19 call centre connects patients and doctors in Somaliland

Somaliland confirmed the first case of coronavirus in April 2020. While the country has taken certain precautions to curb the spread of the virus by closing schools and banning flights, the number is increasing each day, community acceptance is very low, and people are still following their normal routines in the big cities. The main markets are open and large crowds of people are gathering every day specifically during Ramadan and Eid celebrations.

At the same time, there are ongoing rumours that coronavirus cannot affect the Muslim community as they already practise ablution five times every day, and that it is a common cold and people don’t need to worry much about it. These rumours are encouraging people not to take crucial steps like physical distancing and if they feel ill not to seek medical support or isolate themselves.

With all the misinformation and stigmatizing of those who are infected, it's imperative that the government and other civil society organizations increase their community outreach initiatives and make sure that people receive the right information related to the virus in the easiest way possible. The more people receive accurate information, the higher the chances that they will understand and act according to the instructions provided by health officials.

At the moment, the government and non-governmental organizations are conducting traditional awareness rising throughout the country including printing posters with key messages and using radio and TV stations to broadcast information related to the virus so that people can be aware of that.

Shaqadoon, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health in Somaliland and Oxfam, established a COVID-19 call centre in Hargeisa to share information related to the virus and how the community can protect themselves. This two-way communication system is encouraging the community to engage and call the centre whenever they need any information or feel sick. So far, the centre received 658,442 calls since its establishment in mid-April. 

"Every day we receive different calls throughout the country. We have designated agents who are responsible for handling calls from their respective regions," said Mawlid Khadar, from Shaqadon. Mawlid oversees the centre and liaises with the Ministry of Health officials.

“We analyze the information that we receive from callers and categorize them. For example, if the person calling mentions that he has COVID-19 symptoms and is feeling ill, then we tag him as a high alert case. If a person is not feeling ill but has some of the symptoms, then we tag him as a low alert case. We share this information with the Ministry of Health, and they follow up with cases that we identify as a high alert,” added Mawlid.

Besides broadcasting the prevention messages to callers this two-way communication system is allowing people to speak with doctors from the Ministry of Health and consult them.

Dr. Cabdicasiis Cumar is responsible for supervision of cases from Marodijeex region and he said: “When the call centre agents compile the reports they receive daily, they tell us which people they have identified as critical cases that need our immediate attention. We call back every one of them and ask a few follow-up questions. Among these high alert cases, some of them usually have mild symptoms we advise them to quarantine themselves and stay home. If the cases are very critical, we get an ambulance to bring them to the designated location in the hospital.”

In the first week of May 2020, the centre reported 15 high alert cases, of which 11 received support from the Ministry of Health. This support included consultation and sometimes bringing an ambulance if that person was very sick. Although a lot of people are calling the centre every day, some of them do not feel comfortable sharing their true details. “They refuse to talk to us or sometimes if we try to visit them in their homes, they are afraid for the ambulance and doctors with protective suits to be seen in their homes. They are afraid that people might stigmatise them, so they often give us another location,” Dr. Cabdicasiis explained.

“When we reach out to people, some of them welcome us, specifically those who are very ill because they believe any support that they can get from anyone would help them. So far, people that called us and especially those we supported were happy of this initiative. Normally this does not happen. If you feel sick you must manage it yourself, but now they’re getting different support from the government so they’re happy about it,” Dr. Cabdicasiis concluded.

Dr. Cabdicasiis is among the Marodigeex region’s rapid response team who are responsible for following up critical cases that come through the call centre or referrals and making sure that they receive all the intended support. They despatch ambulances and supervise the situation of those who are admitted to the hospital.