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Rift Valley Institute

Making local knowledge work

Community approaches to epidemic management in South Sudan

A scoping study by the Rift Valley Institute on how communities in South Sudan are responding to COVID-19, published in May 2020, identified a variety of local epidemic management systems, including contagion controls, migrant tracking and quarantine systems, care of infectious patients and self-isolation. However, there has been no systematic research that documents these management systems, or past community epidemic management systems. Furthermore, it is not known what methods are currently being adapted, or how they are being discussed, particularly among rural and pastoralist communities. Community Approaches to Epidemic Management, a rapid response research project started in July 2020 and funded by the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) via the East Africa Research and Innovation Hub (EARIH), aims to fill this knowledge gap. It aims to understand how different communities have responded and are responding to past and present infectious diseases and epidemics—including sleeping sickness, measles, cholera, hepatitis B, tuberculosis, HIV and Ebola—in order to design and implement COVID-19 responses that are understood clearly, are taken up and maintained in partnership with local residents, and which take into account local economic and social needs.

The research project seeks to understand how COVID-19 fits within local knowledge of disease and infection risks, and how communities are approaching COVID-19 alongside other endemic infectious illnesses. This research will specifically investigate what infection control measures have been taken up by communities for different illnesses, including COVID-19; why these measures were taken up; and the actors involved in implementing these changes. The adaptation of local epidemic management systems to accommodate medical and public health standards and needs, can provide routes for COVID-19 responses that are supported by local understanding, consent and confidence.

The study targets six research site areas—Yei, Juba, Wau, Malakal, Aweil West and Rubkona—with RVI trained researchers working remotely and in-person across these locations, respecting relevant COVID-19 prevention guidelines. Research from each site is reviewed and analysed on a weekly basis and fed into a project reference group, which reviews findings and considers how to translate these into practice in South Sudan.

A short briefing paper from the mid point of the project was published in September 2020 and the project’s team leader, Joseph Diing Majok, discusses the project below. A full report and accompanying briefing paper were published in January 2021.

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