Dr. David Gai Zakayo, roving medical doctor for Action Against Hunger. Photo by: Lys Arango for Action Against Hunger, South Sudan.
David Gai Zakayo works as a doctor for Action Against Hunger in South Sudan. Fortunate enough to have grown up in a family where all of his needs were met and well aware of the challenges other kids in his neighbourhood were facing, he decided that he would invest all of his time and energy into helping other people.
In this country, doctors are like soldiers, David says. When the war comes, there’s no running away. It’s the doctors’ job, he believes, to reassure people. “I don’t expect help from the outside,” he says. “Everyone is experiencing their own hardship. But help is needed. Together or alone, like all of the challenges that have come before, I will face this disease, and I will not show my fear. It is my fight, and it is my duty.”
Life in South Sudan is very difficult. The conflict has displaced nearly four million people, and half of the country’s people face acute food shortages. And as if the situation wasn’t hard enough, there is only one doctor for every 65,000 people.
David and our team see more than 150 children and pregnant women each day. They work to prevent deaths from malnutrition, malaria, respiratory infections, and other diseases. But first, families have to reach the clinic. The journey isn’t simple; sometimes families walk all day in the heat through dusty deserts and dense forest, hoping to make it to our stabilization centers in time so their child has a chance to survive.
This is everyday reality in South Sudan. Yet, COVID-19 is about to make it even more difficult.
So far, four people in South Sudan have tested positive. But in a country where the resources to test people for coronavirus are virtually nonexistent, it is suspected that there are in fact many more cases. And with only a handful of ventilators for a population of 12 million, the situation looks bleak.
Dr. David Zakayo works with parents to treat their severely malnourished children. Photo: Lys Arango for Action Against Hunger, South Sudan.
If COVID-19 spreads to South Sudan, the country and its medical staff will likely be pushed to the brink. The country is not ready to contain such an outbreak. David knows that prevention is the only hope.
Thanks to your support, our team has expanded the water, hygiene and sanitation (WaSH) programs to raise awareness in the communities about the importance of handwashing. Patients are required to respect two-metre physical distancing as they wait for doctors, and sick beds are separated as much as possible in the limited space that is available. Isolation rooms have also been set up in the health centres for health workers who may be exposed.
“When people come to our facilities, we are confident in our systems of disease prevention,” says David. “But when they go back home, it’s out of our control. Social distancing will be impossible. Many who have been uprooted by conflict still live in tents only inches apart. Extended families often live together, sometimes in one room.”
David has many relatives living in his home right now, relatives who were stuck in the capital when the shut-down came. He opened his doors. “I have the luxury of multiple rooms so that we can isolate someone if they get sick. Most people don’t. People are terrified to visit hospitals, so they come to my house seeking medical advice.” By his nature, David will not turn them away. “I will continue to confront this pandemic with the mental strength that is required in these trying times. For myself, and for those who need me.”
As the coronavirus is spreading across all of the countries in which we work, David and our frontline health staff around the world are working around the clockto respond.
In these trying times, they need inspiration more than ever. Will you take a moment to send them a quick note of support?