COVID-19 Alumni Stories: Katina Sommers

Katina Sommers (MSc Control of Infectious Diseases, 2016) works as a COVID-19 Emergency Response Programme Manager for Concern Worldwide. Here, she discusses how COVID-19 has affected her work and how South Sudan has been responding to the outbreak.

How has the COVID-19 outbreak affected your work?

Since the start of the outbreak, my role with Concern Worldwide has transitioned from Ebola preparedness to COVID-19 response. I am based in a country bordering both Uganda and DRC, where the borders are extremely porous. The COVID-19 outbreak has resulted in the closure of official border points and travellers seeking out alternative, unofficial crossings. Our day to day work still focuses on infection, prevention, and control (IPC), but it has shifted from promoting community awareness about Ebola to encouraging border communities to take ownership of preventative measures to stop this novel coronavirus from entering, and spreading, in South Sudan. 

How have you been responding to the outbreak?

Our team falls within both the IPC/WASH and risk communication COVID-19 response pillars. We support ten frontline health facilities through health worker training, construction of triage to promote COVID-19 screening at the facility level, provision of WASH/IPC supplies, and the distribution of handwashing stations and soap to both health facilities and public places. We have also trained and deployed community mobilisers to increase local awareness and knowledge about COVID-19.

How has your country’s response to the outbreak affected your work?

The response here in South Sudan has been slow to pick up, with quite inconsistent messaging being shared widely. The lack of a coherent, coordinated response, coupled with an extremely low testing capacity- the CDC estimates that less than 1 per cent of the population has been tested and that anywhere between 14,000-22,000 cases have gone undetected in the past four months which has led to the general population believing that the outbreak is over, when in fact it is just picking up. The capacity of health facilities is also very limited, which means that many cases, and fatalities, are remaining in the villages and going undetected. To try and reach these individuals, we have deployed community mobilisers who are equipped with the knowledge and skills to report any suspected cases to health workers.

How has LSHTM’s training helped you during this outbreak?

My training at LSHTM, both in the classroom and during my summer research project in rural Ethiopia, have prepared me for the fast-paced environment of working within a fragile context on an emerging infectious disease. The skills I gained during my time at LSHTM have provided a sound technical base for utilising evidence to inform and guide our interventions at the field level.

What is the most important lesson you feel that COVID-19 has taught you about health systems/or on a personal level?

COVID-19 has shown the importance of information sharing and coordination to counteract rumours and to disseminate facts. From the start of the outbreak, I began sharing daily COVID-19 updates with our entire in-country staff of nearly 200. Access to this information empowered staff with the knowledge to inform their communities about the outbreak and to help counteract a lot of the fear and misinformation that has been circulating.

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Information about how you can support, promote and share LSHTM’s COVID-19 Response work is available here.

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