COVID-19 in South Sudan: Preparing for the worst, praying for the best

Mar 26, 2020
The threat of the global pandemic looms large in South Sudan, where 7.5 million people already need humanitarian assistance. More than half of them are children. “I urge everyone to keep the children's health and well-being a top concern,” says Dr. Mesfin Loha, World Vision’s director for South Sudan. “Many vulnerable adults are also at risk."

As of March 26, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Sudan. But millions of South Sudanese were already highly vulnerable, before COVID-19  appeared on the scene. The numbers are staggering:
  • 44 per cent of people are already at risk of communicable and non-communicable diseases like diarrhea and typhoid fever and cholera.
  • 75 per cent of all child deaths are already due to preventable diseases, such as diarrhea, malaria, and pneumonia.
  • 56 per cent have no access to primary health care services and of the 2,300 health facilities in the country, more than 1,300 aren’t functioning.
  • 1.5 million people have been forced from their homes due to conflict and climate change-related causes.  
a South Sudanese man poses for the camera
Dr. Mesfin Loha, World Vision’s Country Programme Director in South Sudan. Photo: courtesy of Cecil Laguardia

Ironically, some of South Sudan’s past misfortune has helped World Vision prepare for COVID-19. Dr. Loha and his team have spent the last year developing a strategic response plan for the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD), in partnership with the country’s ministry of health and other groups.  

While there are many different aspects to COVID-19, many of their Ebola learnings are transferable.  

“A lot of our learning in containing an outbreak, using robust awareness-raising and screening in vulnerable communities, will certainly help us deal with the novel coronavirus more effectively,” says Dr. Loha.


But World Vision’s preparedness for an emergency like COVID-19 goes back even further. Long before EVD and COVID-19, World Vision staff like Jimmy Samuel Moro have been teaching children and families across the country about hygiene – especially the importance of regular handwashing.   
 
a South Sudanese man gestures at the front of a group of women who are all seated.Jimmy Samuel Moro, World Vision's National Coordinator for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene discusses handwashing and hygiene practices with mothers at the nutrition centre in Juba. Photo: Scovia Faida Charles Duku

With those relationships well-established, World Vision teams have been able to quickly and easily transition to raising awareness about COVID-19. They’re also providing the clean water families need to put their learnings into practise. They recently installed 10,000-litre capacity water tanks providing safe drinking water in 11 nutrition centres in and around the capital city of Juba. The water is also perfect for handwashing, something families are doing a lot of these days. 

Merlin Benson is taking the threat of novel coronavirus very seriously. She’s one of  dozens of mothers who regularly visit the nutrition centre in her community, along with their children. “I will make sure my baby and I are safe, by following the advice shared at the centre,” she says.

a South Sudanese woman washes her babies hands. Merlin Benson and her nine-month-old daughter Sarah, wash their hands after a COVID-19 information session at a World Vision South Sudan nutrition centre in Juba. Photo: Scovia Faida Charles Duku

As in Canada, health care workers across South Sudan are urging people to wash their hands frequently and keep a physical distance from others. But this is not easily accomplished in overcrowded displacement camps and without consistent access to clean water and sanitation.

World Vision staff are working hard to help families prepare and protect themselves from COVID-19, should there be a confirmed case in the country. 

“This pandemic calls for everyone’s cooperation, understanding, and support,” says World Vision’s Dr. Loha. “Its containment and prevention demand a joint effort. We must share resources and focus on the  most vulnerable among us.”

“Most of all, we pray for each other, for all our health workers, frontline responders and leaders, as we respond to this health crisis.”

“Together and united, we can contain the impact of this pandemic in South Sudan and globally,” he adds. 

Learn more about how you can help mothers like Merlin keep their children safe in challenging places like South Sudan. 

With files from Cecil Laguardia and Scovia Faida Charles Duku 

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