In Mayotte, the difficult help for the “invisible”, poor before Covid-19

Faced with the health crisis and the difficulties of this containment, associations have been mobilized to help deprived neighborhoods and slums, where some of the residents live in the informal economy to survive. Bacar Soundi, coordinates the actions of the humanitarian association

We started implementing measures from March 14, first in the form of food packages delivered by the association Humanity First France. It was basic products like pasta, oil, soap, which we distributed to poor families. Almost twenty volunteers made themselves available in the field and we were able to help more than 400 households, or about 2000. We also drew attention to people who did not really believe in it, which trivialized illness. We explained how to respect barrier gestures, how to protect yourself, your loved ones and fragile people: by keeping two steps away, by washing your hands regularly and by wearing a mask. We also distribute service checks at the request of the prefecture and with other local associations. This allowed 3,500 families to benefit from assistance during this very complicated period.

“Coronavirus overlaps with an epidemic of dengue”

Our actions are concentrated in southern Mayotte. Each time, we come into contact with the local referents in the villages and districts to find out who are the people most in need and to receive transmission messages.

At the beginning of the crisis, some messages did not go well, especially in neighborhoods where people do not speak French well. Now it is better, especially thanks to the deployment of associations and CCAS (municipal social action centers). There are still people who trivialize the disease because it overlaps with an epidemic of dengue: this sometimes causes people to say that there is no coronavirus but only dengue. We try to tell them that there are both and that we must respect the barrier measures.

We went to so-called difficult neighborhoods, which are already difficult to access, without electricity without drinking water. The areas of what we call “the invisible”. Covid-19 health crisis has exacerbated their difficulties. Some of the inhabitants of these districts are not known to the state, receive no social benefits or assistance. We intervened without distinction: with single, isolated families, whether in a regular or irregular situation.

According to the channel Mayotte the 1st, ten associations have been selected by Mayotte Prefecture to distribute food packages and measurement checks worth 35 euros each.

For Bacar Soundi this help was welcomed, but he also observed other problems, e.g. impossible containment :

Access to health care is complicated in these neighborhoods and villages: we have seen sick and disabled children. These are often people in an irregular situation who do not treat themselves properly, do not go to a doctor. We explained as much as possible that we had to go to the hospital in the event of coronavirus symptoms. It struck me that I saw women with several children without the other parent. These are families living in deplorable conditions. Sometimes we come back twice, three times to neighborhoods where the needs are great.

A fragile health systemOn May 28, the archipelago had 1,670 confirmed cases and 21 deaths since the start of the Covid-19 crisis. The situation seems to be improved by a reduce the number of new cases daily, but the director of Mayotte Regional Health Agency (ARS)However, Dominique Voynet, former Minister of the Environment, remained apprehensive at the beginning of the week.

On Monday, May 25, she talked about pollution sources “disturbing, in precarious neighborhoods” and said that number of tests had fallen in recent days, especially due to lack of reagents (the products used in tests to reveal the presence of the virus) in the only private laboratory on the island. “The epidemic is not behind us,” she warned.

In its April opinion, the Scientific Council had classified Mayotte into one “separate category”. Since the beginning of the year, the department has suffered from a dengue epidemic that has caused about fifteen deaths and still active with about 3,000 confirmed cases. Mayotte is also a department weakened by poor health care: according to the newspaper world, there are 18 city doctors for 279,000 residents officially listed by INSEE.

To relieve the only hospital in Mayotte, about forty patients benefited from a sanitary evacuation from Mayotte Hospital Center (CHM) to Reunion Island. A military resuscitation module, consisting of ten beds, is also being introduced. In a press release on May 28 announced Mayotte Prefecture announced the arrival of 25 army health professionals to strengthen CHM’s resuscitation team and medical equipment reception. On May 19, Foreign Minister Annick Girardin had already visited Mayotte six tons of medical equipment.

On May 25th prefect Mayotte announced the reopening of schools and religious services in Mayotte. But this very progressive deconfinance, like the passage in the department’s orange zone, does not stop Bacar Soundi from keeping watch:

We continue our actions on the ground, and although Mayotte is now in the orange zone and the restrictions are loosening, we remain cautious. I even think that people need to be more vigilant than before to avoid a possible resumption of the epidemic.