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COVID-19 in South Sudan: "We can do this, together"

What's it like to wait for a pandemic to hit your hospital? As they make all the preparations they can, Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders (MSF) doctor Ayla writes from remote Bentiu, in South Sudan...

Ayla Emmick outside the MSF hospital in Bentiu

Here in Bentiu, at our hospital in the UN camp, the COVID-19 pre-screening takes place in front of the hospital gate. The isolation department is just outside our emergency department.

The result is that, once you’re inside the hospital itself, it almost seems as if nothing has changed.

Signs

But there are signs. There’s the extra workload because some members of the team have to be fully focussed on caring for the isolated patients.

Some of the team also have to be quarantined because they have had contact with our first corona patient.

As I increase the oxygen for an asthmatic patient and adjust the medication of the boy next to him, I wonder how long things will be like this. The silence before the storm.

And the weekly movie nights have been suspended. These were enjoyed by all the children in the ward, but especially their parents and grandparents, so this news has been met with great sorrow.

In the hospital you see face masks everywhere.

An orange gate and an extra security guard appear at the corridor to the isolation department. The number of hand-washing points is being increased.

But the work continues.

As I increase the oxygen for an asthmatic patient and adjust the medication of the boy next to him, I wonder how long things will be like this.

The silence before the storm.

We know one thing for sure

This situation creates many uncertainties: about the workload, numbers, how severe the symptoms will be, how fast the virus will spread, how long it will take, whether we will be able to get sufficient supplies, when the lockdown will be lifted.

But there is one thing that we know for sure, one thing that we stick to: despite all messages and impossibilities, we have deliberately chosen to stay.

We do this together

We attach too much importance to our duties and responsibilities here in the hospital. In any moment of doubt or difficulty, we can go back to what binds us all.

We cannot do this alone, but we can do it, together.

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