COVID-19 Emergency response for 65,000 South Sudanese children

May 12, 2020

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South Sudan, as almost every other nation, has not been spared the devastating impact of the coronavirus. The pandemic alone has been enough to cripple even the most stable nations. But add to this the already fragile humanitarian, environmental and political context of South Sudan and there is a perfect storm in the making…

South Sudan has just emerged from years of violent power struggles and political conflict. It has recently signed a power-sharing agreement and formed a new unity government in February. As the country wrestled to get its political and governance system in order - resolving political battles, appointing cabinet ministries and planning for a new era of peace - the first COVID-19 cases began to be reported. Within days, the potential scale of the impending impact on the nation was becoming evident.

War Child spared no time to respond to the crisis. Already established in Upper Nile, Eastern Equatoria and Jonglei States - where it is supporting thousands of internally displaced people and returnees impacted by the protracted conflict - War Child adjusted its approach to respond to the added risks of COVID-19 on vulnerable children and their communities.

Building on our expertise in providing protection and psychosocial support to children impacted by conflict, our response launched to address the compounding mental health and psychological impacts of COVID-19 - such as stigma and fear - protection risks and support vulnerable households to care for children by securing their livelihoods.

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Upholding public health

Practically, War Child is working closely with its existing health and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) partners to reach out to more than 65,400 community members where it works - most of whom are children. The key focus is on managing the emerging child protection and mental health risks linked to the disease.

We do this by sharing important public health and protection messages by radio, via megaphones from vehicles or on foot and on house-to-house visits. In addition, we distribute hygiene supplies and child activity kits - as well as, in certain cases, cash, to help households manage the impact of the virus.

Local celebrities, such as Afro beat artist Check-B Magic and a Juba youth group, have provided vital support in spreading public health promotion messages. A popular nationwide radio jingle repeatedly broadcast on radio run by the UN, local radio stations and via mobile awareness on wheels has been hugely successful. This is supported by useful public health coronavirus-related information distributed across communities.

Importantly, War Child is also training staff and volunteers, including health and WASH partners in how to best provide psychosocial support during this crisis. This is based on the remarkable success it had with such trainings in earlier Ebola outbreak preparedness actions.

War Child programmes in South Sudan are mainly funded by the Dutch Relief Alliance and UNICEF and implemented directly and with the support of two local partners, increasing to 11 through a new UNICEF partnership. It has 45 members of staff supported by more than 100 frontline community facilitators working directly with children, parents and community members.