Lack of government COVID-19 plan exacerbates losses in Tunisia

Lack of government COVID-19 plan exacerbates losses in Tunisia

London- The lack of a government plan for preparedness and coordination has exacerbated the COVID-19 crisis in Tunisia, says ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies.

Tunisia has battled political and economic challenges for the past 10 years, and the coronavirus pandemic has deepened them, says the London-based think tank in a policy brief on the Tunisian COVID-19 response.

The Tunisian government has enacted strict preventive measures, which were initially successful in preventing a larger outbreak. However, it was late to respond; an earlier preparedness and mitigation plan would have better contained the pandemic and managed the economic crisis, ImpACT observed in its brief.

“There has been poor coordination between public and private sectors in Tunisia,” says Rasha Kaloti, health policies researcher for ImpACT, adding that the latter has been assigned only a minimal role in the pandemic response, despite its dominance in health facilities. This poor coordination has resulted in inadequate supplies of masks and medicine.

There has been poor coordination between public and private sectors in Tunisia which has resulted in inadequate supplies of masks and medicine.

- Rasha Kaloti, Health Policies Researcher for ImpACT

The health system in Tunisia was already ill-equipped prior to the pandemic, with only 240 ICU beds in the country (equivalent to one bed per 100,000 people), Kaloti points out.

As of 17 November, 80,404 confirmed COVID-19 cases have been confirmed of in Tunisia, with 2,345 deaths. The relatively high number of deaths was due to a lack of prioritization of the health sector during the country’s economic struggles, as well as an absence of hospitals in the middle of the country.

Other weaknesses in the government’s COVID-19 response include a lack of clear instructions when police implemented travel restrictions. Likewise, government bodies often issued contradictory orders. For example, thousands of people were told to file for financial aid at post offices, despite earlier being told to obey a curfew and take physical-distancing measures.

In addition, human rights concerns were raised when the government used drones, robots and other technology to conduct surveillance. In June, Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh revealed that the government was accessing personal data through mobile phones to monitor adherence to the lockdown.

More effective coordination between the various actors, including the ministries, municipalities and the private sector, is essential to combat the pandemic and resolve the financial crisis in Tunisia, ImpACT International stresses. It adds that regulations and policies must be clearly shared with the public, along with a coherent, transparent system for resolving political disputes.

In addition, ImpACT calls for the protection and prioritisation of vulnerable populations, including refugees and asylum seekers. This can be achieved by facilitating UNHCR’S access to services, supplies and essential medications. Finally, a human rights approach must be adopted, with potentially oppressive and invasive measures—such as unfettered access to personal information—halted immediately.

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