MSF says aid worker dies in Nigeria after contracting coronavirus

ABUJA, April 20 (Reuters) - An aid worker employed by humanitarian agency Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) died in the northeast Nigerian state of Borno after contracting the new coronavirus, a spokesman for the organisation said on Sunday.

Borno is at the epicentre of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, spawned by a decade-long Islamist militant insurgency that has left 7 million people in need of aid.

The death of an aid worker in a part of Africa’s most populous country where camps house many of the roughly two million people displaced by the insurgency will prompt fears of the highly infectious lung disease spreading quickly among malnourished people, many of whom suffer from other diseases.

An MSF spokesman confirmed the death of one of the aid agency’s workers but did not provide further details. The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) late on Sunday said it had recorded a cumulative total of 627 confirmed cases and 21 deaths - including one in Borno. No further details were given.

The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, in a statement earlier on Sunday said camps for displaced people needed to be decongested due to the pandemic and a number of fires in the last few days.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic slowly spreading across the country, I am extremely worried about the 1.8 million IDPs (internally displaced people),” he said. “Camp decongestion has been a challenge, but it is now a priority,” he added.

Kallon said the United Nations and international aid organisations were working to expand the camps. He said half of the camps in Borno are currently overcrowded with nearly 700,000 displaced people living in cramped conditions.

Africa has seen more than 17,000 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 disease and around 1,000 deaths so far - relatively few compared to some other regions.

But there are fears numbers could balloon within weeks, particularly in areas with poor sanitation facilities, and overwhelm already stretched health services.

Last week a regional World Health Organization official said coronavirus cases in the world’s poorest continent could shoot up from thousands now to 10 million within three to six months according to provisional modelling.

Reporting by Paul Carsten and Maiduguri Newsroom; Additional reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos and Lanre Ola in Maiduguri; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Michael Perry