The Don Bosco Health Center, part of the St. Vincent de Paul Parish and the Don Bosco Gumbo community in Gumbo, South Sudan, is caring for the sick while working to help prevent coronavirus. The Don Bosco Health Center was launched in 2012 with the support of the Caritas Sisters of Jesus. Initially, about 30 patients were seen a day in three small rooms. Today, the Don Bosco Health Center is treating up to 200 patients each day on average.
The health center provides essential services to people in villages who don’t otherwise have access to medical care. Gumbo is located at the center of 20 villages along the left bank of the Nile River, while the town of Juba and other villages are on the right bank. There are no proper hospitals or dispensaries in any of these 20 villages. The nearest one is the hospital of Juba.
Since opening the health center, services have been expanded to meet a growing need. In addition to the primary office location, there are now mobile clinics, a HIV/AIDS rehabilitation program, a nutrition program and child health care. Medical care has become even more essential in the face of the pandemic.
Father Shyjan, economer in South Sudan, said, “Now with the pandemic we are facing many challenges. First of all, the health care system in the country is poor, and we lack prepared health care professionals. Secondly, most of the population lacks the understanding about the pandemic and its seriousness. There are myths about it like this disease is only for white people or for the rich, that the virus does not survive in the hot climate of South Sudan, that the government is lying about it just to get money from foreign help. We have to work to combat these misconceptions while trying to keep people healthy and safe.”
To help do that, the Don Bosco Health Center held a three-day workshop about coronavirus and prevention strategies. There were follow-up seminars and training for health care staff. One of the biggest challenges medical professionals face is testing and treatment. There are only two laboratories in the country able to do the test and one facility with limited beds to keep people in quarantine. South Sudan has only four ventilators in the country. Most of the population can’t keep social distance because the numerous family members live in homes with one or two rooms and have informal jobs for survival.
With the support of donors, the Don Bosco Health Center has been able to buy a thermometer, gloves, surgical masks and other personal protective equipment for the staff at the center. The center has also installed hand-washing facilities with soap at the entrance of the clinic. Medications have been bought that are provided to patients at a low cost and for free for those in the internally displaced persons (IDP) camp. Don Bosco Center staff members continue to assess the situation and meet the needs of those most impacted in their community.
South Sudan is expansive and largely rural with 83 percent of the population residing in rural areas. Poverty is endemic with at least 80 percent of the population defined as income-poor and living on the equivalent of less than $1 per day, according to the World Bank. More than one-third of the population lacks secure access to food.