Despite the threat of COVID-19, life in Kapoeta in Eastern Equatoria continues pretty much as normal. Traders from the region and next-door Uganda and Kenya mix with soldiers and locals with few face masks or cares in the world to be spotted.
With that, and a forum on the rule of law, in mind, the UN has recently taken action, providing a part of the cosmopolitan community with information and protective gear to keep everybody safe.
“The community is at high risk because people keep socializing without fear and without protection,” says Joyce Laker, a psychosocial support expert working for the American Refugee Committee.
So far, Eastern Equatoria State has recorded 52 cases of the Coronavirus, but numbers in this important border area are unknown as there is no testing machine available.
The more than 25 participants at a rule of law forum organized by the United Nations Development Programme will be a bit safer from now on. Those in attendance, representing civil society groups and local authorities, received their fair share of protection, in the shape of face masks and flyers with vital COVID-19 information in English and Arabic. Healthy habits of frequent hand washing, physical distancing and wearing a mask where social distance cannot be guaranteed can be hoped to be established.
Not everyone has the option of staying safely away from others, however.
“I am thinking about the current overcrowding of inmates in our prison cells. This congestion endangers the lives of our prisoners in times of COVID-19,” said Captain Joseph Taban Satrulino, acting director of the Kapoeta South central prison.
Since April, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and other UN entities have conducted several public awareness campaigns on COVID-19 prevention in this part of Eastern Equatoria State. Activities have so far included distributing and placing information material in strategic locations, radio messages and talk shows, and donations of face masks to those most in need.
The UNDP-led forum in Kapoeta aimed to generate discussions on how to improve the implementation of rule of law-promoting measures in general, but also took the current Coronavirus situation into consideration. Among other ideas aired at the gathering, there were suggestions to bail out suspects and inmates convicted of minor crimes to decongest prisons and creative a more conducive environment to avoid the spread of COVID-19.