Patients Avoiding Hospital in South Sudan for Fear of COVID-19, Nun at Facility Concerned

Sr. Jane Francis, a Comboni Sister serving at St. Therese Hospital Nzara, South Sudan.
Credit: Public Domain

Fear of getting infected with COVID-19 has led to many patients resisting admission at a Catholic hospital in South Sudan, a majority of them with unrelated health complications opting for self-medication away from the health facility. This situation is giving a Catholic nun working in the eastern Africa country a headache.

With 194 COVID-19 cases already reported in South Sudan, patients with different diseases have become afraid of the virus, those admitted choosing to “escape” from wards in Nzara Hospital, a Diocesan Catholic hospital in Yambio, according to Sr. Jane Francis, a midwife and nurse at the hospital.

“Some patients don’t want to be admitted even if we recommend them for admission. They are scared,” Sr. Jane Francis told ACI Africa on Tuesday, May 12.

She added, “Even when we clearly tell them that their illnesses have nothing to do with COVID-19, they won’t hear anything of it. They still find a way to escape from hospital.”

Many patients that the 66-year-old nurse and midwife has seen now despise hospital beds and are increasingly preferring to be given medicines and discharged so as to heal from home.

 “Unless they are really, really sick, they will be admitted just because they can’t escape, otherwise they don’t want hospital beds,” she said.

The Comboni Missionary nun explained that patients “first allow a doctor to write down everything and accept being taken to the ward and on reaching there, they escape.”

“They say they are going to get sicker’,” she recalled the words of her patients and added, “Many people who are now coming to the hospital are those who are very sick, who have tried oral treatment and they failed.”

“Normally what we do, if the staff knows the patient well, where they come from, we tell the staff to try and monitor them at home,” Sr. Jane Francis said, explaining an alternative service offered to the patients violating medical directives on admission.

Asked about the patients that left the 125-bed capacity hospital with serious sickness, the Ugandan-born nun explained the back and forth of some individuals.

 “Some (patients) come back, and some never come because they feel ashamed and they think that maybe we shall be upset because they ran away,” she said.

The nun shared her work experience amid COVID19 crisis on International Nurses Day marked May 12, when the world celebrated the selflessness of caregivers during the pandemic.

In his May 12 tribute, Pope Francis praised nurses all over the world who he said "carry out this profession which is more than a profession; it is a vocation, a commitment."

"May the Lord bless them (nurses). In this time of pandemic, they have given an example of heroism (and) some have given their lives. Let us pray for nurses," Pope Francis said.

Nzara Hospital’s Medical Officer, Dr. Taban Charles Loponi linked the behavior of their patients to rumors surrounding the coronavirus disease.

“The challenge is a lot of rumors. Some feel that once you are admitted you will die and once you are dead, your family will not be allowed to see the body,” Dr. Loponi told ACI Africa.

He added, “As Africans, we treasure our dead bodies and that is the fear that once you are isolated, your relative may not access you when you die.”

“I think once people are given information, they can understand,” Dr Laponi said.

He explained that the focus of the hospital was also to prepare staff at the facility on the proper way to handle people who test positive for COVID-19.

“We aim to help them understand how to go about COVID-19 cases so that they don’t get (shocked) in case we have such a case in our hospital,” he said, and added, “If we don’t prepare them well, there is a possibility that once somebody is found positive for COVID 19, he will be neglected.”

ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.

Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa
[email protected]