Communities in Wau are beginning to realize the threat posed by COVID-19 with cases of the virus now confirmed in the Western Bahr El-Ghazal region.
While the reality is hitting home, many are still not following prevention measures because of practical as well as traditional and cultural reasons. For some, it is simply not possible to physically distance because they need to make a living to support their families in conflict-affected South Sudan.
Markets, restaurants, and sports facilities are particular hotspots as they are congested with customers and spectators are not observing physical distancing or other health measures such as frequent hand washing.
To help spread prevention messages, the Civil Affairs Division of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan held a workshop for 20 community leaders and business owners from Wau and Jur River counties over two-days.
Restaurant owner and mother-of-five, Veronica Peter, said communal eating and sharing food from one plate was part of South Sudanese culture but did not comply with Ministry of Health directives to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I want to tell South Sudanese that eating together in one place is not a good habit,” she said. “When you take your food, divide it among yourselves, and eat your own food away from each other.”
COVID-19 is affecting many businesses in South Sudan where people have body contact or are forced to breach the physical distancing rule of staying two meters apart, as recommended by the World Health Organization.
“Plaiting hair means you need to be close to the client, but this is how you can be infected by COVID-19,” said Nada Al-Sudani Surur, a beauty salon owner in Suk Jou. “Now, when I am doing this, I will take care of myself and my customers by putting on a face mask.”
Sixty-seven-year old John Akot is vision-impaired and a leader of the physically challenged community in Wau. He says innovative ways need to be found to spread prevention messages.
“Please give us radios,” he says. “It is only our eyes which are blind, and our legs crippled, but our ears are listening. We cannot move like other people to places to read COVID messages for ourselves.”
The message from the COVID-19 rapid response team in Wau to local communities is very clear.
“Protect yourselves as much as you protect your clients. We will keep sharing with you important guidelines as you continue with your businesses. But, please, help us stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr. Natali Massimino.