PALATINE, Illinois — South Sudan is a country in North Africa with a population of just more than 11 million. It is one of the poorest countries in the world. Endemic diseases in addition to the Coronavirus pandemic have contributed to a health crisis in the country. Furthermore, due to political and military disagreement, South Sudan is at risk of a large-scale conflict that could displace millions. However, despite division in the country, the people have grown closer than ever before and are finally hoping to achieve freedom in South Sudan’s story.
Diseases in South Sudan
Diseases have disproportionately affected children in South Sudan, and it’s easy to see why. The combined effects of COVID-19 and school closures have stalled educational opportunities for millions of children. COVID-19 has also disrupted healthcare-related services throughout South Sudan, contributing to a lack of disease treatment for children. In fact, South Sudan has one of the highest child mortality rates in the world as one in-10 children may not reach their fifth birthday. Additionally, the country has experienced “a spike in teenage pregnancies.”
The pandemic has exacerbated existing problems in South Sudan. However, endemic diseases have arguably had an even more adverse effect as the country has “little health infrastructure and extremely remote populations.” For instance, diseases such as elephantiasis and river blindness have affected more than eight million people in South Sudan; however, only 17% and 18% of them, respectively, have received treatment. Moreover, more than 77% of disease diagnoses among children younger than 5 are from these endemic diseases. This highlights the devastating effects of endemics in South Sudan.
These diseases, while having a direct effect on the lives of millions, also have had many indirect effects. Michael Pepple from Oxfam America, a global organization working to end poverty, told The Borgen Project “these diseases have a direct impact on people’s ability to earn a living, attend school or participate in … other activities.” For example, he emphasized that “due to sub-national conflict, people end up not seeking medical support due to fear of attacks.” Additionally, he remarked that “poor health and untreated disease (are) also tied to food insecurity and hunger.”
Destruction From War
South Sudan gained independence from Sudan in 2011 as part of an agreement six years before ending a long-lasting African war. However, the end of the war didn’t bring the end of the conflict. South Sudan’s own civil war began in 2013 after the president and vice president became at odds with one another. Although that conflict ended in 2018, it still managed to displace four million people from their homes and kill more than 380,000 people.
While the conflict has diminished in recent years, the country is inching closer to a full-blown conflict again. For instance, a fiery insurgency is still taking place in the southern region, which sparked widespread instances of minor violence. Moreover, conflict-related disruptions “have inhibited economic activity,” fueling instability and contributing to a poverty rate of 80%.
“The conflict in South Sudan directly impacts people’s ability to lead stable lives where they can access their fields or waters to produce food to eat and sell,” Pepple said. Another 120,000 people live in catastrophic conditions almost exclusively due to the violence that has broken out recently. “With the conflict in the country, peace and security remain fragile as the economy will continue to shrink further and create serious humanitarian problems,” Pepple added.
Desire for Freedom
While disease and conflict have harmed the lives of millions of South Sudanese, they have not remained silent in their suffering. Last December, tens of thousands of people protested on the streets of the capital demanding political reform. Some protests have even gotten out of hand. In fact, seven regions in Sudan declared states of emergency last February.
“With the conflict in the country, peace and security remain fragile,” Pepple said. However, even with the country’s current struggles, he remains optimistic about South Sudan’s efforts. “After 10 years of independence, it’s time for there to be dialogue and peace at all levels in South Sudan,” he said, “so communities can feel safe to return home and hope for the future.”
Overall, disease and conflict have transformed South Sudan into a poor and dangerous country. The pandemic and other epidemics have killed thousands of people while conflict has inflicted political and economic hardship on the country. Nevertheless, the people of South Sudan are refusing to give up, protesting in hopes of freedom and safer life.
– Calvin Franke