South Sudan has a critical window in which actions can be taken to curb the spread of COVID-19 and avert the worst. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) fears that if the virus takes hold it could be particularly devastating to communities already suffering from years of war and violence.
“COVID-19 is a serious threat, and one that we are committed to helping South Sudanese overcome,” said Sandra Banks, the health advisor of the South Sudan Red Cross. “It is critically important that every person in South Sudan has information on what COVID-19 is, how it is spread, and what measures they can take to protect themselves and their loved ones.”
The South Sudan Red Cross, with support from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), ICRC, and other Red Cross partners, mobilized more than 1,400 volunteers to run health education campaigns on COVID-19 and distribute soap and water buckets to public places in some part of the country. The South Sudan Red Cross is also working with the ICRC and the IFRC to identify water points in Juba and other parts of the country that need repair, so it can help communities have better access to clean water, including for washing hands.
“We have seen around the world that COVID-19 cases can quickly escalate,” said Ana Lucia Bueno, the health coordinator for the ICRC in South Sudan. “We need to act fast and take preventive measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 before it overwhelms the country’s health care system. With many of the clinics and hospitals in the country degraded by years of war and underinvestment, every health care facility is precious. They must be protected.”
The ICRC is putting infection prevention and control measures in place in the three hospitals and 36 primary health care centres it supports around the country, including prepositioning personal protective equipment and training health staff on how to keep themselves safe. At the same time, medicines and supplies will continue to be provided to primary health care centres so that they can keep treating the most common health issues, such as malaria and diarrhea.
Infection control measures have also been put in place with the support of ICRC in places of detention. This includes setting up hand-washing stations at prison entrances and distributing hygiene items such as soap to detainees. With family visits suspended in prisons, the ICRC is also helping detainees keep in touch with their families through phone calls.
At the same time, violence in parts of South Sudan continue to leave scores injured and displaced from their homes. In the last two months, the ICRC has treated more than 200 people for gunshot wounds and its wards are currently full of patients. Thousands of people still rely on food and other assistance to meet their basic needs.
“The humanitarian needs caused by war and violence has not disappeared because of COVID-19,” said James Reynolds, the ICRC head of delegation in South Sudan. “We have to keep meeting those needs, while addressing the additional risks that the pandemic brings.”