South Sudan: The plight of refugees with disabilities

On today's World Refugee Day, 4.3 million people from South Sudan are still displaced. Among them are people with disabilities who are at even greater risk from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Light for the world employee Sophia Mohammed and little Nyaush in an IDP Camp in South Sudan (c) Light for the world

"When we found her, she was just sitting there. She didn't sleep or eat,” Light for the World aid worker Sophia Mohammed describes the moment which changed one-year-old Nyaush's life. 

The little girl lives in the Mangathen refugee camp in South Sudan and has a brain drainage disorder, called hydrocephalus. At that point, she desperately needed help. Nyaush was immediately taken to Uganda and operated on there. 

That was almost two years ago. Today Nyaush laughs, and is learning to talk and explore the world. But her safety and health are still at risk. Since the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the globe, she has been unable to attend vital follow-up examinations in Uganda because the borders are closed.

 COVID-19: Preventative measures

The number of COVID-19 cases is increasing in South Sudan despite stringent restrictions on movement and a night curfew. 4.3 million people are currently displaced. Light for the World estimates that within this number there are about 250,000 people with disabilities . Many of them live in overcrowded refugee camps in South Sudan or in neighbouring countries. 

Compliance with hygiene measures is the only way for refugees to protect themselves from COVID-19. But lack of water, soap - and above all, space - makes this almost impossible. Reaching people with disabilities in this chaos is a major challenge because help and information is often not accessible.

Helping people with disabilities

The development organisation Light for the World works closely with other NGO partners to include people with disabilities in aid outreach during crises. 

"They are very worried because their primary care has been curtailed," says Sophia Mohammed. "Most stay at home if they have one." This often prevents people from getting access to key supplies and limited medication.

For the time being little Nyaush cannot go to Uganda for necessary follow-up examinations, which puts her health at risk and means her future is uncertain. Until things are clearer, her worried mother will continue to bring Nyaush to physical rehabilitation therapy provided by Light for the World, and hope the borders will open again soon so she access the care she needs.