South Sudan's healthcare system is under strain, with a country of 12 million people but only one permanent infectious disease unit - with fewer than 100 beds – and one laboratory testing for coronavirus. The pandemic has had a knock-on effect on older people’s income and access to essentials including food and water. With our partners, HelpAge International and HDC, we adapted our existing programmes in South Sudan to keep people safe then worked to gain an understanding of older people’s needs during the pandemic and ensure those needs were met.
The civil war in South Sudan has left more than seven million people, or about two-thirds of the population, in dire need of help. The conflict has ravaged South Sudan's economy and years of violence, displacement and underdevelopment have limited people's ability to earn an income and weakened families' ability to cope when times are tough.
Before coronavirus spread across the globe, we were running a project in South Sudan which focused on providing age-friendly access to legal protection for displaced older South Sudanese men and women that are affected by conflict. This project is contributing to the increased protection of 1,000 older men and women who have serious protection concerns including psychological abuse, physical violence, sexual violence, neglect, and restriction of movement.
To continue our essential work in South Sudan after the global pandemic was announced, we acted quickly to adapt our way of working and made sure that both older people and our staff and volunteers had the supplies they need to stay safe and prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Information on coronavirus, with specific messaging for older people and to protect themselves, was printed and distributed as well as being broadcast on local radio.
We provided infrared thermometers and hand sanitiser to our project workers to help them continue delivering their work without putting anyone at risk.
We provided hygiene kits and handwashing stations to help stop the spread of the virus to 100 older people with specific needs. We also produced cloth face masks.
Our partners in South Sudan, HelpAge International and HDC, conducted a “Rapid Needs Assessment”, speaking to displaced older people in the “Protection of Civilians” (POC) sites and in the urban area of Juba, South Sudan, to understand how they were being affected by the pandemic and the restriction of movement in place there. The findings were worrying.
"I used to buy other foods like fish, meat or eggs using part of the profit from my business, but now that we are in lockdown I cannot do anything, all the stores and shops in the town are closed. It has paralysed my business. I have cut off the diet I used to have."
Thanks to the DEC Coronavirus appeal, we were able to raise funds to provide the help older people told us they needed.
We’re providing community outreach volunteers who regularly visit older people, including housebound older people, to ensure they have access to the information, food, clean water, and hygiene items they need. We recruited and trained older people in the community as volunteers, as well as sign language interpreters.
When older people in one site told the outreach team that the latrines in the area were no longer fit for use, we carried out work to clean and maintain them. We’ve also provided cash assistance to 250 of the most vulnerable households and older people to help them meet their basic needs.
We’re continuing to raise awareness of health and care rights and provide advice for those at risk of COVID-19 on how to protect themselves, through local radio and the community outreach programme.
We are also working with other humanitarian agencies in the area to ensure older people are considered in the planning and delivery of their programmes, including our fellow DEC members.
"Life was hard during corona but now life is improving. Assistance has come back and distribution of food and water have started again. I hope this disease goes away so we can have a good life like before."
Hear from older people in South Sudan first hand.
Older people in the poorest parts of the world affected by conflict or living in refugee camps need help urgently to survive the silent threat of COVID-19.