Corruption in Somalia complicates the battle against the spread of COVID-19 in the Horn of Africa country, a representative of Caritas said.

Buying personal protection gear and medical equipment to donate to hospitals is "very difficult because Somalis have sold the donated materials" in many instances, said Sara Ben Rached, Caritas Somalia director.

"Cases of health materials being stolen from government hospitals" and then later seen "in shops and marketplaces have been reported in the media," she told Catholic News Service.

Alongside other Catholic humanitarian organizations, Caritas is running many projects to assist Somalis during the pandemic, Rached said. It has financed donations of medical supplies in Mogadishu, the capital, and other parts of the country, including refugee camps.

Also, the organization is working with television and radio producers to run a COVID-19 awareness campaign in Somalia, which has a population of about 15 million people, Rached said.

She noted that many people do not respect social distancing and do not wear masks.

By July 7, Somalia had more than 3,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and close to 100 deaths.

"The problem is that we don't know the real numbers," Rached said. "The country is divided," and testing is not happening in all regions, she said, noting that in al-Shabab-controlled areas "tests are impossible."

Al-Shabab, the al-Qaida affiliate in East Africa, has continued to threaten government workers responding to the pandemic, destroying hand-washing stations and blocking sanitization efforts while keeping mosques open and allowing public gatherings without social distance practices, Rached told CNS in an earlier interview.