The population of nomads we work with is very isolated, but they must on occasion visit a crowded market to do their shopping. In the hot, dry season which is happening now, Wodaabe women often leave the country, traveling south to Nigeria, Benin, Togo or Ivory Coast, or west to Mali to sell their traditional medicines. They return by public transport. The first case of coronavirus in Niger came in from a traveler who had recently traveled to Benin, Togo, Ivory Coast and Mali. There are now 548 confirmed cases. Although the Niger government quickly reacted to close international airports and borders, nomads don’t travel by plane and live outside the normal routes. They are also suspicious of their government, having lived so long on the fringes and often been in conflict with it.
For the Wodaabe women returning from their foreign travels, this is the most likely exposure to COVID-19 they will ever have. This possible exposure is why we felt it urgent to give them information and supplies from someone they trust. And do it now. So far no cases are confirmed in the Agadez commune where we work. We want to do our best to keep it that way.
Rotary club jumped in with partial funding for a mission and Sidi, our rep in Niger and Rabi, our clinic nurse are now on the road distributing handwashing stations, soap, and information.
It is easy to convince nomads to wear turbans since they already do. Asking them not to shake hands is more of a challenge since the usually repeat the handshake about 10 times–all the while asking about kids and cows and weather. But not having parties–now that is a real challenge. But they all know Sidi and I hope they listen.