Press Release

UNHCR commends South Sudan as first refugees receive COVID-19 vaccination

Refugees in South Sudan are receiving COVID-19 jabs during the rollout of the country’s national vaccination campaign, joining Ethiopia, Rwanda, Sudan and Uganda in including refugees in their COVID-19 vaccination plan in the East African Region. Today, 13 people, among them 10 refugees from the Gorom Refugee Settlement located some 20km outside of Juba and three members of the host community including one health worker visited the Buluk Police Hospital for their vaccine.

For vulnerable refugees, their inclusion in the national vaccination campaign could not have come soon enough, “I came to receive my first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, I feel very fine, there is no pain and the process is very simple,” shared Ojullu Ochan Ochan, a refugee from Ethiopia. “I encourage all refugees in South Sudan and the region including the host community to take the vaccine to protect themselves and their families” he added.

Health workers are among the group to receive the jab in line with the national vaccination plan of prioritizing frontline workers in the country. “I came today to take my COVID-19 vaccine in order to share my experience with others and bring home the message that I am doing very well and to encourage others to take the vaccine to protect themselves, their families and their communities,” explained Dut Yual Agoth, a volunteer health worker from the host community with UNHCR partner ACROSS.

Since the start of the pandemic, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, in collaboration with its partners and the government, has scaled up its COVID-19 response activities to keep refugees, internally displaced people, returnees as well as the communities hosting them safe across South Sudan. Life-saving support such as boosting water and sanitation services, increasing access to healthcare including the renovation of health facilities and provision of ongoing regular services including nutrition programmes continued despite the pandemic.

The organization also provided three ambulances to state authorities, installed six COVID-19 testing machines in refugee settings in Maban, Jamjang, Makpandu, and in Yei, as well as airlifted various medical items including oxygen concentrators, portable ventilators, emergency supplies including soap. UNHCR also established two intensive care units in Maban and in Pariang, and COVID-19 isolation units in all refugee camps. Personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, gowns, and sanitizers continue to be supplied to health facilities that are serving the forcibly displaced families across the country.

The roll-out of the national vaccination campaign has also heralded good news for students. Schools have reopened following more than one year of closure. Since March of 2020, UNHCR and education partners have supported remote learning for refugee and host community students, however in-class attendance and the joy of studying alongside friends everyday has been greatly missed. To support the reopening of in-person learning this May, UNHCR also made improvements to water and sanitation facilities in primary and secondary schools.

“Today, I wish to commend South Sudan for the continued generosity to include refugees as well as internally displaced people in the national preparedness and response plans since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said UNHCR’s Representative, Arafat Jamal. “Safeguarding refugee health also protects the health of their host communities and wider society, and UNHCR is working with the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organisation, UNICEF and partners to support the roll-out in all refugee hosting locations.”

UNHCR participates in the National COVID-19 Steering Committee, headed by the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization, and in its various technical working groups, headed by other partners in implementing the national COVID-19 preparedness and response plan including among forcibly displaced populations.

UNHCR reiterates that refugees, internally displaced and stateless people and their local host communities must be included on an equal footing with citizens in national responses to the pandemic, including public health access, vaccines, and social safety nets, and the South Sudan government has shown this.

“No one is safe until we are all safe,” added Jamal.

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