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In their own words: How hunger puts older people at risk of COVID-19 in South Sudan

John (right) tells his story

South Sudan’s largest city and capital, Juba, is now home to many people who have been forced to flee their homes due to the civil war. Many of them live in Protection of Civilian (PoC) sites, which are by nature crowded and at increased risk from coronavirus.

John Maliah Bakiam, 59-years-old, is a married man with two wives and nine children. He lives in an Internal Displaced Persons (IDPs) Protection of Civilian site (PoCs) in South Sudan.

He told us that before he arrived in his current camp he had been displaced five times. There are many challenges for him and his family, for example his roof is very old and has developed a lot of holes and when it rains they get wet from all the rainwater.

John explained that the amount of food given to them by a humanitarian agency over the pandemic had been reduced, forcing him and other older people outside of the camp to look for food, putting them at high risk of COVID-19. There are awareness sessions on coronavirus being held by different organisations as well as information on the radio and at service centres so people understand the danger of the virus but many are lacking basic materials to help protect themselves – such as soap.

“My main fear of COVID-19 is that this disease is said to majorly kill older people. It means that when it enters the PoCs we, older persons will be at danger especially older persons like me who have chronic diseases (High Blood Pressure), although me personally, my close relatives or friends have not been affected by coronavirus we are all at risk.”

While people are not restricted from movement officially, most places are closed and moving around is strongly discouraged. John told us that there are people living in the camps who don’t have food ration cards and so depend on the daily hustle outside of the PoCs. These people are forced to put themselves at risk of coronavirus to eat and feed their families. John himself used to go outside of the camp to do labour work constructing local shelters but is now unable to. His wages used to pay for clothes and medicine for his wife, children and extended family but he has now had to stop buying clothes and extra food and is unable to give assistance to his extended family. What little he has he must stretch for essential medicine until he can work again.

Fears surrounding COVID-19

John says “Coronavirus remains my ultimate fear, taking into consideration the level of health facilities we have in South Sudan that cannot manage COVID-19. I don’t know how they will cope if they are affected”.

“COVID-19 has changed the South Sudanese, everyone is afraid of each other because of the disease but the good thing is that it has promoted hygiene like washing hands which used to be a rare thing for some people”.

“Media and organizations should continue with the awareness-raising and the government should continue to put measures in place”.

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Last updated: Mar 01 2022

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