JUBA, South Sudan (AP) — For the first time, COVID-19 has been confirmed in a crowded civilian protection camp in South Sudan’s capital, the United Nations said Tuesday, a worrying development in a country that’s one of the world’s least prepared for the virus’ spread.
The U.N. is aware that the health ministry and World Health Organization have confirmed the two cases in the camp in Juba, said Francesca Mold, a spokeswoman with the U.N. mission in South Sudan.
The health ministry’s emergency preparedness manager, Dr. Mathew Tut, said the two infected people were South Sudanese and in their 20s. South Sudan was one of the last countries in Africa to confirm a case of the disease and now has 174.
As of mid-April more than 190,000 people were still sheltering in several U.N.-run civilian protection camps across South Sudan, more than a year after a peace deal ended a five-year civil war. Nearly 30,000 are sheltering in Juba.
The prospect of the coronavirus’ spread to refugee and displaced persons’ camps in Africa, the Middle East and Asia has alarmed health and other aid officials as often remote locations, travel restrictions and shortages of medical supplies make any containment and treatment extremely challenging.
As of late April, almost none of the 10 million people packed into such camps around the world had been tested for the virus, The Associated Press found.
Aid workers in South Sudan have warned there is little more than isolation centers in place to treat people if the virus begins to spread in the crowded camps. The country’s health system relies on NGOs for almost all health services.
Most of the infected people so far have been treated at home instead of being isolated at the Dr. John Garang Infectious Diseases Unit, which the WHO has said is being expanded from 24 beds to 80.
Last week the South Sudan Doctors’ Union expressed concern over the government’s decision to partly relax virus lockdown measures, saying it “does not see urgency” in doing so as the number of cases are rising. Most cases in the past month were from local transmission, the union said.
Bars, restaurants and markets have resumed business.
Cara Anna in Johannesburg contributed.