A firsthand account: Facing the virus in a refugee site with no medical staff
67-year-old Mr Mathiang Ngunoa told us about his life in a Protection of Civilians (POC) site in Juba, South Sudan. The POC sites were set up by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) to provide refuge for people affected by the civil war there.
The sites were initially supposed to be temporary, but as fighting continued, more and more people flooded to them, seeking protection. The sites are overcrowded and ill-equipped to house so many people long term, with nearly 30,000 people living in the Juba site.
Mathiang lives in the Juba POC site with his niece. War in South Sudan has forced him to uproot his life four times over, and he lost his home and his cattle before he found shelter in the POC site. And now COVID-19 has reached South Sudan, with cases rising rapidly. He explained his situation.
“As far as prevention of COVID-19 is concerned, I don’t think I have what it takes to prevent myself from contracting it because I lack soap for washing hands regularly, I don’t have a face-mask and I can’t afford to buy them for myself regularly as required. We still eat together with the entire family.
Coronavirus frightens me more currently, although there are other serious issues affecting us here in this camp like lack of sufficient food and health facilities, and security issues among others.
Living here in the POCs is really challenging, you know we rely on the UNMISS and other humanitarian agencies to keep us safe. One issue, which is really affecting us here, is the floods in the POCs. As it has started raining now, our shelters are always being flooded no one really cares about that this makes us vulnerable as older persons.
Although I have not been infected personally by COVID-19, my nephew was infected. Thank God, I am told he is recovering now.
COVID-19 has totally changed everything including what we eat or do, in other words it has broken families. You can’t go see your relative who is sick of COVID-19, even when he or she dies you cannot view the body.
Our movement in the POCs here, of course, is not like for those living in Juba Town who are free to move anytime. Here the UN has its own regulations for entry and exit from POCs. Now with this curfew launched by the government because of COVID-19, you can’t even go anywhere due to fear of COVID-19. It is good that humanitarian agencies are providing us with food and medicine here in the POCs although it is not up to standard, it is better than nothing at all.
My livelihood has completely changed. The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused me more harm than good. I used to be a security guard at a community leadership centre that paid me 100 USD, but that leadership term ended, and the predecessor terminated my service. I used to save some of that money for my balanced diet and some medication, now it’s stopped.
Humanitarian agencies are the only ones assisting us here – I swear to God the government doesn’t care about people in the POCs. The restrictions placed by the government are not being observed by some people, but for us older persons we have nowhere to go. Some people are busy moving day out day in. It’s very difficult for some people to stay in one place we are used to visiting our friends and families, staying with them and greeting them, but now it’s discouraged. It is really traumatizing!
This lockdown has separated families, my children have been locked in Uganda others in the Wau and in Bentiu. It brings many emotions but we cannot help ourselves.
The health facilities we have in South Sudan cannot even manage malaria patients. I do not know how they will really manage COVID-19! They are sub-standard and there are no qualified medical personnel. I do not know how they will cope if the virus reaches here.
What is important now is that we have to do things that boost our immune system like exercising and taking herbs, to strengthen ourselves against COVID-19.
I like the way the media and organisations are disseminating information relating to COVID-19 and I encourage them to continue raising awareness. The government should continue to put measures in place so as to contain the spread of COVID-19 in South Sudan."
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.
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