Misean Cara presents a series of reflections about COVID-19 from the team in Ireland.
Misean Cara’s Health Project Officer Niamh Caffrey reflects on the pandemic in Ireland and overseas, bringing her global health expertise to focus on the pandemic’s impact around the world. In this first edition of a series by Niamh, she takes as a starting point the perspective of schoolchildren in South Sudan.
“Covid, Covid, Covid 19. Who told you to come here? Who sent you to us? Or did you come by yourself? What have we done to you? Why are you doing this to us?”
As I reflect on these harrowing words from an 11 year old girl from South Sudan, I wonder how life and luck could possibly present itself worse in such a fragile and insecure country.
The month of June 2020 brought solace and hope to many nations across Europe, who ever so slowly, climbed out from the darkness and devastation COVID-19 ravaged on its shores, to open retail, restaurants and borders. However, this crisis is far from over, as cases today soar in South Africa, snowball in the United States and escalate in Brazil.
The World Health Organisation announced on June 22nd 2020 that there were 9 million COVID-19 cases globally. That day marked the highest number of new cases in a single day since the outbreak started; 183,000 new cases. In one day.
Less than a month later, as I write this in mid-July 2020, there are over 13 million cases worldwide.
As a newly qualified graduate of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, I had wasted no time diving into my long anticipated global health career earlier this year with Misean Cara.
What I did not know was how quickly my knowledge of global and population health and healthcare emergencies would be tested. I grappled with feelings of both surprise and fear.
Although the suffering and need was vast here in Ireland, my job pulled me to focus on our developing world, where we feared those already on society’s fringes would be pushed beyond their current means.
The first emergency request was from South Sudan, in what could only be described as a plea for help, to support a local health centre to equip itself with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), medicines and disinfectant.
South Sudan is overwhelmed by political conflict, economic crisis and severe climatic extremes such as drought; all of these factors have caused massive displacement, violence, acute food shortages and extreme poverty levels.
When the Coronavirus reached the shores of Africa, South Sudan was slow to react. In a country which had zero ventilators at the beginning of this global pandemic (our members now reporting a meagre increase to four), healthcare workers also grappled with infrastructure shattered by the protracted war, a public healthcare system close to collapse and inadequately qualified colleagues.
Hosting 1.69 million Internally Displaced Persons, the citizens of South Sudan are bound to struggle to meet certain World Health Organisation COVID-19 prevention guidelines.
Can you picture social distancing in camps in South Sudan? How can individuals queue for essential food at distribution sites, or at boreholes to get water for their families?
Despite these challenges, communities, families and missionaries are undaunted. Misean Cara members are responding swiftly through collaborative work across South Sudan.
Their focus is on reaching those most isolated and in-need in this fractured country. Project teams have spread out across communities, bringing help in the form of sensitisation and awareness messages through posters. They also trained community members, procured fabric to make their own masks for distribution and constructed no-contact taps to ensure safe hand-washing facilities.
This footage from Rumbek shows how to use your foot to tap a lever to tip water out from a container. It means you can wash your hands without touching the stand – therefore stopping the spread of dirt and bacteria.
These approaches to community needs are diverse but each in their own way has been a response tailored to the real and emerging needs of communities where missionaries live, work and devote their lives.
The response and reaction of our members has been swift. But so too was COVID-19. As the world grapples with second waves of COVID-19, we cannot lose focus on the African continent, and in particular the fragile country of South Sudan.
As I write this , the country has only 2,058 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 32 related deaths but we need to question the reliability of these figures in such an unstable country, where limited resources existed before this global pandemic, now further stretched.
Will cases suddenly rise in South Sudan, or will we ever have an accurate number of infections, giving South Sudan’s weak health systems, and further limited testing?
I hope that Misean Cara members continue to fight not only this pandemic, but fight against the injustices and inequalities that continue to consume South Sudan, and that much needed global attention is focused on the resilience of the people here and also highlights their urgent needs.
The needs of South Sudan were present both before, during and what will inevitably continue post COVID-19. This global pandemic highlights for me how gross inequalities and weakened health systems can not only be fatal for the vulnerable and sick, but unbalance the playing field, leaving those most in need far behind. With limited, or no testing in South Sudan, how can the population prepare and tackle what they cannot see and test for?
My plea is for global solidarity, assistance and support to our global neighbours and missionaries in South Sudan.
The second part of Niamh Caffrey’s series is about the strain of caring for COVID-19 against a backdrop of fragmented healthcare systems and can be read here.
The third part of Niamh Caffrey’s series is about missionaries supporting innovation in the face of COVID-19.
In the final part of this 4-part series Niamh Caffrey analyses the risk of hunger in this time of COVID-19, the Hunger Pandemic.