Sensitizing people across South Sudan on preventative measures to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus remains one of the top priorities of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) currently.
The mission, therefore, has partnered with the newly formed Citizens Taskforce on Covid-19, a group comprising of citizens from every walk of life in South Sudan, to address misconceptions about the virus and complement efforts made by government authorities to tackle the pandemic.
This partnership with UNMISS has taken the form of a 14-day outreach event which uses a truck travelling through various neighbourhoods in Juba and across the country broadcasting key messages in numerous local languages about simple yet effective ways in which people can stay healthy and protect themselves as well as others around them from the virus.
“It is important that we reach out to people, especially those living in the UNMISS Protection of Civilians sites in their own language. This is a collective effort and we are rolling this out as far and wide as is possible for us with the help of the mission,” says Laura Merekaje, Coordinator, Citizen’s Taskforce.
The messages being broadcast are those that have been widely disseminated by the World Health Organization (WHO). “We are using standard messages approved by WHO which mainly focuses on washing hands. What we do is contextualize these messages for South Sudan,” reveals Ms. Merekaje. “Contextualising is important here because concepts like physical or social distancing aren’t part of the culture here. Therefore, we need to distil the messages in a way that people understand why it’s important to stay at least two metres away from each other and avoid shaking hands or hugging,” she adds.
While this kind of outreach activity may sound simple, it comes with its own set of challenges, especially because misinformation regarding COVID-19 is rampant. “I am a South Sudanese myself and I can tell you, many people still labour under the myth that this virus affects people selectively. That’s just not true and we’re working hard to make people understand that everyone is at risk when it comes to COVID-19,” avers Ms. Merekaje.
For its part, UNMISS has imposed a travel freeze on all staff travelling into the country, ensured staff who arrived prior to the ban are self-quarantined for 14 days, introduced work-from-home measures to reduce numbers of staff in offices, and enforced physical distancing rules and frequent hand washing by all personnel. This form of mobile outreach via trucks is the latest step taken by the mission to protect South Sudanese communities from COVID-19.
“UNMISS is travelling around the country, going to places like Leer, Ding Ding, from Malakal right down to Yambio across to Wau and right down into the Eastern Equatoria. We’re sending out the same message everywhere in languages that people understand — Keep safe, keep your distance, and wash your hands,” says David Shearer, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General, UNMISS. “These messages outline the basic rules that everybody, including me, have to follow, especially in the PoC sites because of the cramped living conditions. We’re in this fight together,” he added.