“The people in the Nuba Mountains are marked by war”

A Report be the longtime Cap Anamur project staff member Helene Prögler from Sudan.

Helene Prögler had her first mission for Cap Anamur already in 1989 in Southern Sudan. Even then, the bitter war between the government and the rebel groups was already raging in Sudan and still hasn’t been resolved so far.

Since 2012, the trained nurse has been working almost continuously for Cap Anamur. After another year in Sudan, where we have built a hospital in the Nuba Mountains and still operate it until now, Helene Prögler left for Sierra Leone in 2014.

At that time, Ebola was rampant in the West African country and Cap Anamur was the last aid organization left in the country. Back then, Helene Prögler supported the work in the only children’s hospital Ola During Childrens Hospital in the capital Freetown. Many children were hospitalized with symptoms at that time. The 21 beds in the isolation ward, which was built extra for the Ebola epidemic, were non-stop occupied. However, the medical staff was only allowed to enter this isolation ward in protective suits.

And in this situation the many years of experience of the Essen intensive care nurse were very valuable. She supervised the putting on and taking off of the protective clothing – the most important protective measure for the Cap Anamur employees on site (News from 21.11.2014).

Since the beginning of 2019, she has been continuously working in Sudan. There she also experienced the beginning of the Corona Pandemic in March of this year. Initially, it was assumed that the pandemic would reach devastating proportions on the African continent, but during the last few months it has become clear that the number of infections was relatively low. This was certainly due to the lack of testing capacity, but also to the fact that the population is on average much younger than in Europe.

Helene Prögler reports in a short interview how she experienced Corona in our hospital in the Nuba Mountains:

 How did you and the team in Sudan experience the outbreak of Corona and what measures did you take?

“In the Nuba Mountains, there is no reliable information on the number of infections since the outbreak of the pandemic. This is because there is no capacity for testing and therefore, it cannot take place. For this reason, the staff at Cap Anamur initially proceeded in such a way that hygiene stations were set up in front of the medical facilities. In addition, both local staff and patients were instructed on how to protect themselves from the corona virus. An isolation ward was built next to the clinic in Lwere to accommodate people with severe symptoms”.

Is it possible to implement measures such as hygiene and distance rules in the Nuba Mountains?

 “The living conditions of the Nuba cannot be compared with European ones. They have to go on an arduous journey to get water, food or firewood everyday – staying at home is not possible for them. They live in the smallest of spaces and keeping a distance is unthinkable for them. In addition, there is a salutation ritual based on close physical contact. For the Nuba it is difficult to imagine not to act out this ritual. In addition, Water is one of the most valuable resources. The procurement of water is already so difficult for the Nuba that they would not waste this precious commodity for what they consider as unnecessary hygiene measures. The people cannot afford soap either. Only the children have increasingly accepted and implemented the hygiene measures provided by Cap Anamur. For them it was a pleasure to be allowed to wash their hands without restrictions.”

What other peculiarities around the Corona pandemic have you experienced?

“We had to realize that the people in the Nuba Mountains were not able to envisage anything when hearing about a virus. They know about malaria, which is transmitted by mosquitoes and therefore, one should avoid this mosquito. But the corona virus is ‘invisible’ to them, they can neither see nor feel it. The imagination of the people is shaped by war: If you hear a plane, the people know that they have to flee to the mountains for protection in order to survive. The virus, on the other hand, is not within their grasp, so they show less acceptance of the measures taken against the virus.”