World News

Aid worker with coronavirus dies in Nigeria's troubled northeast

ABUJA (Reuters) - An aid worker has died in Nigeria’s northeast after catching the new coronavirus, his employer Médecins Sans Frontières said, raising fears that the infection has found a foothold in the troubled region.

The government and aid groups were trying to trace anyone who had come into contact with the man before he died, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Edward Kallon, said on Monday.

The case was the first confirmed in Borno, a state at the epicentre of a decade-long Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands and forced an estimated 1.7 million to flee, many into crowded displacement camps. Borno borders Niger, Chad and Cameroon.

Nigeria’s Centre for Disease Control said late on Sunday it had recorded 627 cases of the novel coronavirus across the country. Up to now, the bulk of cases have been reported in the commercial capital Lagos, on the coast more than 1,500 km (900 miles) away from Borno’s main city Maiduguri.

The United Nations said the aid worker was a nurse who had not travelled outside the state.

“Our dear colleague died on 18 April in Maiduguri, and post mortem test results indicated that they were positive for COVID-19,” MSF said in a statement, referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Kallon said aid groups were setting up quarantine facilities, installing hand-washing stations and distributing soap and chlorinated solution.

“It is essential for the most vulnerable to continue receiving humanitarian aid, including water and soap or substitute solutions,” he added.

The health commissioner for northern Bauchi state, said a World Health Organization worker who had also travelled to neighbouring Kano state had tested positive for the coronavirus. There was no immediate comment from the WHO.

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 the infection could spread fast, 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 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 and Libby George; Editing by Michael Perry and Andrew Heavens