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FROM EBOLA TO COVID-19: HOW A UN MEDIC IS PREPARING FOR PANDEMIC MANAGEMENT IN SOUTH SUDAN

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UNMISS 27 APR 2020

The year is 2014. A younger, somewhat naiver David Ndungu has just landed in Monrovia, Liberia. The boisterous, larger-than-life, enthusiastic nurse had heeded a call for medics to join the fight against Ebola in West Africa.

“I honestly didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that I wanted to be an African helping solve Africa’s problems, and at that time, Ebola was an African problem,” he says with his trademark laugh.

Driving from the airport and through the streets was a reality check.

“In the poorer parts of town, streets were strewn with dead bodies. Disturbingly, in the more affluent neighborhoods, there were people doing their morning runs, almost like they were living in another universe.”

David and his team would end up setting up an Ebola treatment centre in a remote part of the country. He nostalgically recalls their very first patient being an eight-month old baby.

“We had barely set up when a mother came in with her sick child. We made a quick decision to open the facility and admit the baby.

Not being able to let the mother inside was heartbreaking. So, there we were, treating a baby 24 hours a day, while covered in layers of personal protective equipment.”

Fortunately, the boy recovered and was reunited with his family after a couple of weeks of intensive care. It was the starting point for all hands on deck till Liberia was finally declared Ebola-free.

Years later, and David is back on the frontline, this time serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, battling the Coronavirus that has ravaged the world and killed thousands and thousands of people. That was not exactly what he had expected when he took up his post as a United Nations Volunteer and nurse at the health clinic in Malakal.

“It’s a Deja-vu, to be honest. Except now, because of my years spent in Liberia, I feel more able and more prepared,” he says.

“The mission has dedicated a lot of resources into curbing an outbreak of the disease, by providing information on hygiene, physical distancing, stigmatization and most importantly, as was the case when we were fighting Ebola, bringing the community on board, because without them everything we do is futile.”

In Malakal, David spends his mornings screening travelers moving around for essential and critical services in the region, recording their vitals and sending some into mandatory self-quarantine as per health guidelines.

He and other medics have also prepared an emergency isolation facility to manage any confirmed cases.

“We are doing all we can to ensure that our staff and humanitarian workers in Malakal are prepared for any eventuality, and in turn our humanitarian workers are doing everything possible to prevent an outbreak among the population. That’s the best way to deal with the Coronavirus: prevention. Because there is no cure.”

In Malakal, the country’s second largest town, medics and humanitarian actors have provided training for community health workers and community leaders. Additionally, the UN’s field office is preparing local tailors to supply masks to thousands of displaced persons living in the protection site.

The UN Mission in South Sudan continues to provide support to the government and the World Health Organization’s attempts to battle the pandemic. A lot of efforts and resources have gone into ensuring that proper messaging about the virus is shared amongst the 12 million people living in the world’s youngest nation.

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