Bringing the Whole Community Together against COVID-19By Cecil Laguardia
Going to a remote village in Renk County in South Sudan will take you a day on foot and a boat ride across the crocodile-infested Nile River. This does not count enduring the weather, which is very hot at this time, and the unforeseen dangers walking in the bush. These are the daunting challenges that World Vision staff and health workers face as they roll-out the COVID-19 prevention measures. Ahead of the pandemic, these workers have been toiling quietly addressing the health needs of their own people. Now, they all have to rise to this new challenge.
This time, they do not gather the people in one place but need to be resourceful by using the sound system to keep a safe distance, move around and relay the information to as many and as fast as possible. Located in the border with Sudan, Renk County in Upper Nile State's second-biggest county with an estimated population of over 130,000.
Apart from installing handwashing facilities in the county’s health facilities and other strategic areas, World Vision’s team also monitors the water and other supplies to ensure they are available all the time. Health workers are trained on how to communicate the prevention measures effectively, identify the symptoms and ensure that they themselves, and their families, observe the proper practices to serve as an example in the communities.
“In fragile contexts such as South Sudan, the COVID-19 pandemic will impact the most vulnerable with its hardest force. Communities need clean water and soap to wash their hands and keep them clean. Many consider this a luxury when it should be a necessity,” says Inos, World Vision’s Zonal Manager in Greater Upper Nile State.
“They need to have adequate and nutritious food to help boost their immune system so they are not compromised,” adds Inos. “In the absence of a vaccine, or treatment, we tell our communities that the best way to tackle this is to prevent, prevent and prevent by handwashing, practising proper sanitation and hygiene, social and physical distancing.”
So far, with the intensified efforts of the health workers, an estimated 80 percent of the county’s population has been reached. The commitment is very high as they realised the only way to save more lives is information and behaviour change.
Still, it is an uphill battle for the World Vision team, according to Health Coordinator Rose. “Many villagers believe the pandemic is too far away to affect them. It took time for us to convince them that the virus can move through people and it can reach their village in no time,” she shares.
Part of the team’s strategy is to enlist the village chiefs and elders to help in making sure the people take the threats seriously, observe the prevention tips and remain on high alert. “The community leaders need to be part of the efforts to be able to enforce the measures,” adds Rose.
A veteran health worker who has worked for over two decades in the most challenging emergencies, Rose has trained hundreds of community health workers in her lifetime around South Sudan. “We have to do our best as a people to help the most vulnerable. We cannot rest until everyone takes this virus seriously and prevent it from spreading because our healthcare system is not prepared to deal with it.”