South Sudan – COVID-19 Emergency Response

South Sudan has been beset by conflict and instability for years. Yet, the stirrings of a new unity government in the first months of the year brought with it a renewed appetite for peace in the country. This made the spread of COVID-19 a particularly devastating reality for the African nation. Not only could the impact of the virus derail the ceasefire agreement and reenergise rival factions, it is also wreaking havoc on the country’s fragile healthcare system. Learn more about how Dorcas is meeting urgent needs in an ever more challenging political environment.  

Reporting date: 13, October, 2020 
Total cases: 2, 787 
Recovered: 1,290 
Deaths: 55 

The bigger picture 

David Shearer, the top UN official for South Sudan, says the pandemic is already derailing the peace process and delaying treatment to curable diseases such as malaria, diarrhea and pneumonia. This could have a ripple effect and actually result in more deaths than the loss of life from COVID-19 itself.  

While the infectious disease hospital in the capital, Juba, has been expanded, hospitals in local states are reaching capacity. Many front-line workers are operating without sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and salaries are going unpaid. Meanwhile, escalating violence in Jonglei, Unity, Lakes, Warrap and Western Equatoria states has left hundreds of civilians killed and some 60,000 people displaced; also contributing to increased food insecurity and lack of access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities. On top of this, more than 800,000 people have been affected by unprecedented levels of flooding, putting more pressure on the already fragile healthcare and food system. 

Though the official COVID-19 death rate remains low, the reality on the ground is unclear. Limited testing and social stigmatisation could be responsible for obscuring the true scale of the pandemic.  

Our Response 

Dorcas is working to ensure that basic needs are met while addressing the wider fallouts of the COVID-19 pandemic through the adaptation of its programme activities as well the continuation of the South Sudan Joint Response. The South Sudan Joint Response sees seven member organisations of the Dutch Relief Alliance (DRA) join forces with nine national partners to provide emergency assistance to people who suffer most from the protracted crisis.  

Our joint COVID-19 response is supporting vulnerable internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees at the Wau Protection of Civilian (PoC) site and Masna Collective Centre in the northwest of the country – where Dorcas already has a strong presence. We are also providing equipment to primary healthcare facilities in the city of Wau.  

Equipping public healthcare institutions 

As part of our COVID-19 Response we joined forces with local partner, Mary Help Association to set up triage stations for the screening of COVID-19 patients at designated hospitals including Wau Teaching and Mary Help Hospital. Each station is equipped with handwashing facilities, personal protective equipment (PPE), infrared thermometers, beds, oxygen concentrators, wheel chairs and other essential items.  

WASH and awareness-raising 

To combat misinformation and the alleged under-reporting of COVID-19 cases, Dorcas is going to the heart of communities to ensure our message is heard. In practical terms, we are working closely with our existing network of health and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) partners, including local partner Women Development Group, to disseminate important public health messages via information, education and communication (IEC) materials, radio and home visits.    

Additionally, we have trained 30 community leaders and 34 community health workers in hygiene and sanitation best practice and WASH, as laid out by the World Health Organisation (WHO). These individuals are now equipped to monitor existing practices and take the necessary steps to improve them in collaboration with our network of community hygiene promoters. People also need basic hygiene supplies to stay healthy. Dorcas is distributing three bars of soap to some 4967 households across Masna and PoC Wau as well as the Agok and Abunybuny communities on a monthly basis. This distribution is a simple yet effective measure to limit the spread – as well as a way to safeguard human dignity. 

Our efforts have also seen us dig more pit latrines in at-risk areas to improve access to basic sanitation facilities. Dorcas continues to make an important contribution to keeping the overcrowded PoC Wau camp clean through solid and liquid waste management.  

Fighting growing hunger needs 

Keeping people healthy isn’t just about protecting them from infection. The COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictive measures put in place have exacerbated economic woes and food shortages across the country. Our ongoing nutrition and food security activities – aligned with the crowd management and physical distancing requirements issued by the World Food Programme – have become even more important. 

With hospital treatments on hold and many maternal health services at a stand-still, we are also providing additional support to pregnant women. For single and new mothers, we are conducting regular ‘catch ups’ by phone or in person to tackle high rates of malnutrition among children. Our trainings help mothers select and grow healthy foods that contain the essential nutrients needed to help children grow and develop. We also provide advice so that mothers can detect malnutrition and the causes of malnutrition – which include contaminated drinking water and poor sanitation facilities – early.   

Next steps 

“Though the context has changed since the rise of COVID-19, the areas in which we work remain just as relevant”, says Agnes Kroese, Country Director for our programme in South Sudan. “Access to safe and sufficient drinking water, proper sanitation facilities and food security will therefore continue to be key features of Dorcas interventions. 

“We will also introduce new priorities as the pandemic unfolds”, she continues. “COVID-19 has put an additional burden on the livelihoods of thousands of people that were already living in dire conditions. That’s why Dorcas has recently resumed its vocational training and entrepreneurship project, providing opportunities for people to set-up a business, earn an income and restore their livelihoods. This is crucial in a context where the indirect consequences are dwarfing the impact of the virus itself – particularly in one of the world’s most fragile countries. By meeting urgent needs but also strengthening local resilience, Dorcas can hope to achieve long-term change. This is and will continue to be our strategy moving forward.”  

Dorcas programmes in South Sudan are primarily funded by UNICEF, The World Food Programme and contributions from the South Sudan Joint Response (SSJR) and implemented directly with the support of two local partners. We will continue to work together to devise new and better ways to reach at-risk populations across South Sudan. Visit our dedicated country page to learn more or read about our Joint Response on the DRA website.       

10 November 2020