Updates from JRS South Sudan
South Sudan Education Programme

By Noelle Fitzpatrick

 

3 April 2020

We continue to think of Canada amidst the significant toll COVID-19 is taking there. I hope you are all remaining safe in it all.

As of yesterday, Thursday, April 2, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in South Sudan. It is widely recognized that if COVID-19 is detected in South Sudan, the fragility in the governance, economy and health systems could mean the impact will be catastrophic.

In the past 10-14 days, there have been successive directives from the Government of South Sudan relating to COVID-19 prevention and preparedness. A nation-wide curfew has been instigated from 8:00PM – 6:00AM, all international airports within South Sudan closed to international flights, and restricted internal flights. Land borders are closed to passengers, with cargo vehicles and fuel tankers exempted, and with additional screening measures in place. All shops and businesses selling non-essential commodities are ordered to close, all schools are closed, public institutions operating on half day, all non-essential staff directed by the Ministry of Labour to work from home. There is a ban on all public gatherings. With the electrification of Juba only now in progress, the government yesterday directed that linking to the national grid of all essential institutions (e.g. hospitals) should be prioritized.

JRS South Sudan brings host community youth to teach basic English to internally displaced South Sudanese at an informal IDP settlement, Maban, South Sudan (Andrew Ash/Jesuit Refugee Service)

We expect these measures to be in place until at least the end of April 2020. At JRS South Sudan, we continue to review and revise our own planning in relationship to these directives, and the advice coming to us from the National COVID-19 Task Force, the Health Cluster, the National NGO Forum, our own SOP on COVID-19 Preparedness and Response and in consultation with the JRS International COVID-19 Working Group.

Currently, in compliance to both government regulations and public health recommendations, all regular JRS South Sudan program activities have been scaled down to protect those we serve and work with. Our project teams are actively engaging with lead partners in each location to see how JRS can best contribute to the Inter-Agency Infection prevention and control plans being worked out at each location. JRS is a key protection actor in both Yambio and Maban, and our adapted programming will likely entail scaling Risk Communication and Community Engagement work within the same populations targeted by ongoing projects in Maban and Western Equatoria where we have built relationships of trust.

The aim of this is to identify and respond to new needs including addressing misinformation/rumours and increase the likelihood of community cooperation and trust in the COVID-19 prevention response. Our response will require creativity, and to some extent be defined by the availability of necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) for the well-being of both our community workers and the beneficiaries.

I have asked our Project Teams to do their best to capture/document the new needs emerging, and examples of the miscommunication/rumours that exist and need to be addressed.

JRS is already contributing to appropriate messaging on COVID-19 through the local Catholic Radio Station in Yambio. An observation from our Project Director yesterday was that those people in the IDP camp in Rimenze do not have the same access to radio, and misinformation is high and needs to be urgently addressed. Another team member reported being asked by a beneficiary ‘is it true that if you drink strong tea with no sugar that you will be immune to COVID-19’? This will give you some indication of the basic risk communication work that needs to be done so that people have access to the facts.

We will be in touch with progress updates for ongoing funding and specific requests in regard to the COVID-19 response in the course of the next 7-10 days; as we gain clarity on the needs/gaps in our respective locations and establish where we can most value by our accompaniment and support. We are truly appreciate for the supportive responses we’ve had from CJI so far and will provide updates as soon as they are available.

– Noelle Fitzpatrick
Country Director
JRS South Sudan