AFRICANEWS 10 APR 2020
Over 2.5 million children1 already in need of humanitarian protection will be vulnerable to further illness, food insecurity and violence if the COVID-19 situation worsens in South Sudan, warns Save the Children. The second case of COVID-19 was confirmed in South Sudan on April 7, and while no further cases have been confirmed since, the agency warns that a rapid spread of the disease in the country will cause havoc in already-stretched health services.
The government of South Sudan has acted quickly to put in place measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including the rapid and immediate closure of all institutions of learning, markets and businesses except food stalls; limited movement; and an enforced curfew. However, Save the Children is concerned that any measures designed to fight the disease must take into account the best interest of the child, including their right to access health services and information in a child friendly manner.
Any prevention measures must not put children at risk of harm in the immediate or long term.
More than half the population of South Sudan, or 26.01 million people, were already facing severe food insecurity even before the pandemic hit the country, with seven years of conflict forcing millions of people from their homes, fracturing communities, and paralysing agriculture. Nearly 1.3 million children aged between 6-59 months are also already acutely malnourished. Public health systems are also in a poor condition, with only 22% of health facilities fully functional and nearly 3.6 million people lacking access to health assistance.3 Only 3 percent of the national budget is allocated to health sector and, according to the World Health Organization, there is only one doctor per 65,000 people in South Sudan.4 There is a critical need to protect the valuable health staff we have and to ensure an oxygen system to support case management now and children in the future
Rama Hansraj, Country Director, Save the Children South Sudan said:
“With humanitarian funding already in decline, this global pandemic caught everyone unaware. Funding is urgently needed to ensure that our response in South Sudan reaches every child, especially those most in need. Humanitarian programs makes a huge impact in South Sudan – but only when they’re sufficiently funded. Governments, international and local responders should work together to ensure protection is mainstreamed in all sectoral interventions. The government of South Sudan must work to allocate greater funds to building a robust health system, to ensure it has the capacity to not only treat the current COVID-19 outbreak, but also allow it to continue to focus on other killer diseases of children under five. As the country enters malaria and pneumonia season, we’re very concerned that an already-stretched system will reach breaking point.”
Save the Children is also concerned about the potential economic impact of the crisis, with an inflation rate of nearly 300 percent posing a risk to children’s wellbeing, education and protection needs in the country. Any further economic slowdown triggered by COVID-19, coupled with food insecurity, is likely to have a heavy toll on child mortality.