South Sudan has seen a sharp spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past week, with cases more than doubling amidst a humanitarian emergency. President Salva Kiir has warned the country, where conflict has significantly weakened the health system, may not be able to withstand the overwhelming emergencies witnessed around the world. More than nine million people are in need of food assistance, and growing insecurity due to a political vacuum is paralyzing the COVID response.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is adapting our work to be able to continue our life-saving programming and working to contain the spread of the disease; and calls for more funding for frontline responders to help strengthen the health system, enhance infection prevention and control, procure personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health staff and home care kits for clients who do not need hospitalisation, as well asincrease our community engagement and disease surveillance. The new Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (RTNGoNU) must end the political standoff and put in place local leadership to respond to the pandemic.
Caroline Sekyewa, South Sudan Country Director at the IRC, said, “The humanitarian crisis in South Sudan is deepening as the double emergency created by the COVID-19 pandemic adds to a streak of hazards. Political stalemate within the recently formed government, an escalation of violence between communities, a COVID-19 induced economic crisis, recent flooding, an oncoming plague of desert locusts and a drastic drop in oil revenue have converged to exacerbate a legacy of disease, hunger and displacement left from six years of civil war.
“While formation of the RTNGoNU in February 2020 ended the civil war, community violence is raging in several states where the government is unwilling and unable to exercise political and administrative control. The political standoff is preventing the formation of critical institutions, including the appointment of state leadership required to lead a COVID-19 response at the local level. Amidst this power vacuum and a deteriorating economy, community violence over resources is escalating, leading to casualties, displacement and preventing aid agencies from reaching those most in need.
“The South Sudanese people need our support. If the new RTNGoNU can establish local leadership, the administration can support humanitarian actors in undertaking COVID-19 preparedness and response measures. With increased funding for the frontline response, we can improve health infrastructure, provide economic support to the most vulnerable, protect women and girls, and save lives. ”
South Sudan has one of the weakest health systems in the world with only 24 ICU beds, four ventilators, one laboratory able to test for COVID-19, and an estimated 0.15 doctors per 10,000 people. Mitigation measures have decreased access to food with inflation at approximately 36 percent and maize imports down by 50 percent. Farming activities have been restricted by social distancing leading to delays in land preparation, and there has been a 65 percent reduction in weekly incomes among youth and women. This comes at a time when harvests are threatened by an upsurge of desert locusts that are destroying key crops.
Women and girls in South Sudan already face some of the highest levels of violence in the world and 80 percent of at-risk women and girls did not not have access to services for gender-based violence even before the pandemic. Now, as women are forced to quarantine with their abusers and cut off from their support systems, we will see an increase in violence. Survivors are experiencing anxiety over delayed legal proceedings, and many are cut off from critical services. The IRC is adapting to provide remote support to women in need.
The IRC has more than 400 staff in South Sudan responding to the increasingly dire food insecurity crisis through its support for health, nutrition, reproduction health, women’s protection and empowerment, child protection, and livelihoods and economic recovery.
The IRC has launched a US $30 million appeal to help us mitigate the spread of coronavirus among the world’s most vulnerable populations. We are working across three key areas: to mitigate and respond to the spread of coronavirus within vulnerable communities; protect IRC staff; and ensure the continuation of our life-saving programming as much as possible across more than 40 countries worldwide.Distributed by APO Group on behalf of International Rescue Committee.