« The risk of a rapid spread of COVID-19 in South Sudan is high, due to the country’s weak health system, low water supply coverage, poor hygiene and sanitation services, as well as the challenge of maintaining key humanitarian supply chains through neighboring countries. This has left the South Sudanese population and residents highly vulnerable to epidemic diseases.. »
On 31 December 2019, a cluster of pneumonia of unknown etiology was reported in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of the People’s Republic of China. On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) announced that the pathogen known as the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), now constituted a pandemic: “an epidemic occurring worldwide, or over a very wide area, crossing international boundaries and usually affecting a large number of people”.
COVID-19 is having an unprecedented impact across the globe both in terms of prompting the scaling of public health preparedness and response as well as protection of vulnerable populations.1 Furthermore, worldwide restrictions to supply chain and travel are increasingly posing significant obstacles to humanitarian aid, possibly curtailing the timeliness of future efforts.
The first case of COVID-19 in South Sudan was confirmed on 5 April 2020, since which point a further 2,211 cases have been confirmed as of 21 July 2020, with 45 deaths. The risk of a rapid spread of COVID-19 in South Sudan is high, due to the country’s weak health system, low water supply coverage, poor hygiene and sanitation services, as well as the challenge of maintaining key humanitarian supply chains through neighboring countries.
This has left the South Sudanese population and residents highly vulnerable to epidemic diseases, particularly women, children, persons with disabilities, the elderly, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), migrants and returnees.2 While the COVID-19 response is a health issue, it is bound to create a number of knock-on effects that will have lasting impacts on communities in South Sudan, further undermining their coping mechanisms and capacity to manage future shocks associated with disease outbreaks, extreme climatic conditions and conflict. The impact of the closure of borders and lockdown will compound the vulnerability of a population who had already been wrestling with the effects of a conflict-induced economic crisis, including rising food prices and inflation. The decline in the availability of resources may be a driver of conflict and violent competition, leading to an uptick in both localized violence and criminality.
In areas of high population density, such as displacement sites, populations are under the risk of being put under pressure to exit the sites to areas with very limited services where host communities are already facing challenges of their own. This – coupled with increased pressure or inability to generate an income for many South Sudanese who operate in the informal sector – could result in escalating tensions at the community level. As such, measures need to be in place from the beginning of the crisis to reduce the socio-economic and other impacts of COVID-19 and avoid severe shocks that will only act to exacerbate instability, bringing structural inequalities into sharper focus.
It is against this backdrop that IOM is appealing for USD 25 million to support key response activities in South Sudan across the various pillars over the period July 2020 – June 2021.