In Niger, COVID-19 will worsen “an already fragile health system”: Cleric

President Mahamadou Issoufou addresses the nation over covid-19, March 17, 2020.

With 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and three deaths recorded in Niger, a Society of African Missions (SMA) Priest ministering in the country has confirmed the fears of many critics of African countries that the global pandemic, which has claimed the lives of at least 37,780 people globally, will only worsen an already fragile health system in the landlocked west African nation. 

“The pandemic adds fragility to an already fragile system,” Fr. Mauro Armanino told Vatican News.

“The health system is very fragile. There are some public hospitals, several private clinics and a reference hospital offered by China but it can be used only in particular cases,” Fr. Armanino said.

He added, “When you arrive at the emergency unit of the Niamey hospital, the capital, you have to have money to pay for medicines, gloves and all the products necessary for treatment, otherwise the person is abandoned at the entrance, is not seen or even considered. They die right there.”

The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection in the country rose to 22, including three deaths, with four new cases having been confirmed Sunday, March 29, according to a press release from the Nigerien Ministry of Health.


Faced with the rapid spread of the virus, Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou, on March 27 took a series of additional measures, including the declaration of a state of emergency throughout the national territory as of midnight on Friday, March 27. 

The Head of State also announced a curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. for a renewable two-week period starting Saturday, March 28, and the isolation of the town of Niamey for a renewable two-week period starting next Sunday at midnight.

There are now more than 4,600 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus across the continent, with at least 46 countries affected.

Besides the COVID-19, the SMA priest explained that the landlocked country suffers from other “diseases that are destroying the population.”

“The first disease, if we can define it that way, is hunger,” Fr. Armanino said and added, “It is followed by malaria, which is dangerous especially for young people; not to mention diseases related to lack of water and lack of hygienic services.” 

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Malaria remains a major public health issue in the country. According to the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), a government initiative to combat the disease, “Malaria accounts for 28 percent of all illnesses and 50 percent of all recorded deaths” in the country. 

The nation, which lies in the Sahel region is also experiencing violence caused by increased attacks of armed groups. 

Speaking to the country's state, the Priest said, “We have always lived in a context of precariousness.” 

“In 2015, the churches were destroyed. In 2018 our brother, Father Luigi Maccalli, was kidnapped. Also, two parishes in our diocese, for security reasons linked to terrorism, there are no priests who can guide the communities. And now the coronavirus arrives,” the Italian Priest recounted.

As a response to the county’s situation, the Priest revealed that recently, “the Archbishop of Niamey called a meeting of the presbyterial council in which he stressed that the nation is going from one emergency to another.”  


Amidst the challenges experienced in the country that is predominantly Muslim, Fr. Armanino said, “We try to do everything possible” to promote life.

“Our greatest contribution is prayer: on Friday (March 27) we were united in prayer with the Pope in St. Peter's Square. And we have the presence of priests among the people. Our communities try to exist by resisting, and by this resistance they show that they exist, despite this painful and tormented reality,” he concluded.

Niger is ranked as one of the world’s poorest nations according to the World Bank. 

Over the last few years, Niger has been experiencing an upsurge in violence leading to food insecurity, which the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported “could rise up to a total 14.4 million, a level that has not been reached since 2012.”

Currently, the West African country is hosting over 300,000 refugees and displaced persons fleeing from their homes as a result of the crisis that has engulfed the Sahel region.

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Magdalene Kahiu is a Kenyan journalist with passion in Church communication. She holds a Degree in Social Communications from the Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA). Currently, she works as a journalist for ACI Africa.