South Sudan health officials announced the country’s first death from COVID-19 on Friday, with a top health official describing the deceased as a 51-year old "high-profile South Sudanese."
The deceased arrived at a military hospital in Juba on Wednesday evening in critical condition, according to health ministry undersecretary Dr. Makur Matur Koriom, who is also a member of South Sudan’s High-Level Taskforce for COVID-19.
“While arrangements were being made for referral to Dr. John Garang Infectious Disease Center, the victim sadly succumbed to his illness and the results came out today confirming the cause of death to be respiratory failure due to COVID-19 infection,” Matur told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.
Victim a military official?
There are reports that the COVID-19 victim is a senior South Sudanese military official, although South Sudan army spokesperson Brigadier General Lul Ruai Koang told VOA he has not heard of a military officer or commander dying from COVID-19.
The deceased is among 28 new COVID-19 cases the task force announced Thursday night. Twenty-seven of the 28 cases are South Sudanese; the other is a Kenyan, Matur said.
Two of the new cases were in contact with a known COVID-19 patient, 20 were identified from random screenings in Juba, and the remaining six cases were tested in Juba following alerts from members of the public, Matur said.
The health ministry undersecretary urged citizens to immediately report suspected cases to health officials so they can get tested.
“It’s important because almost all the suspects we have at the moment in the [isolation] facility, including the dead, arrived at the facility late, due to delay[s] at home or they were managed in private facilities for some times before they were sent to our health facilities in critical condition,” Matur said.
Almost 4,000 samples wait to be tested
As of Thursday evening, 3,986 samples at Juba’s public health laboratory needed to be tested for coronavirus. Contact tracing for 465 people who came into contact with COVID-19 patients was underway according to health officials.
Health ministry spokesperson Doctor Thuou Loi said officials suspect there are many more unconfirmed COVID-19 cases in communities across the country.
“By simple calculation when we know one case we say that there are another 2.5 we don’t know outside there,” Loi said.
He said the public should continue practicing social distancing, wearing masks in public, and following other preventative measures outlined by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the health ministry.
“All of us in the Republic of South Sudan are at risk, and we don’t know now who has it and who does not have it, and the only way to do that is for us to consistently implement what the health experts are telling us: keep social distancing, hands hygiene, no handshaking,” Loi told VOA.
WHO and health ministry officials said last week that despite a rising number of confirmed cases in South Sudan, some COVID-19 patients refused to cooperate with health workers involved with contact tracing.