Monday, October 12, 2020

Thoughts on University Autonomy

 John A. Akec

When I was growing up, I did not see myself working anywhere else except serving as academic at university. And as far as I was concerned and could remember, being a university professor was the most fascinating vocation to pursue. I didn’t care and didn’t matter which particular university I was going to end up at. And by the way, so far, I have no regrets.


Universities in many ways are very similar in what they do, in how they look, their rituals and traditions are the same, and in type of customer base they serve; from Harvard, to Oxford; from Berlin to Paris; from Cape Town to Nairobi and Makerere; you name it. They share awful lot in common. Not surprisingly, universities trace their linage to Greek academies that were established by Plato, Pythagoras, and Sophists back in the sixth century Greece. The departments of humanities at our universities are rooted in Plato academies that were devoted to discovering truth for its own sake, and truth for philosophers destined to be kings. Engineering and science departments originated from Pythagorean academies which taught mathematics and astronomy. And our of social sciences departments drew their inspiration from Sophists who taught rhetoric seen as necessary for success in life.


The modern university began to take shape in the medieval era, and was defined as a “community of masters and students” with a unique personality and soul. This unique personality is identified by “a name and a central location, masters with a degree of autonomy, students, a system of lectures, and a procedure for examinations and degrees…and an administrative structure with its faculties”, according to Clark Kerr.


Early universities were founded and run by religious institutions, mainly Christian monasteries and Islamic madrasas, and support by the kings. Their targets were elitist boys. However, the development of printing press in the sixteenths century enabled books to be published in large numbers, and led to spread of knowledge. It also allowed learning to move from the ancient system of one-to-one instruction, to one-to-many learning mode of today. As universities spread, higher education began to massify with support of the church. Other universities were established as private foundations supported by endowments from wealthy individuals. The number of universities increased from 10 universities between 1800 and 1809, to 131 universities world wide between 1850 and 1859. And by 1990s, the number of university degrees awarded in the United States alone rose to 1.05 million degrees compared to 28,600 in early 1900s. And by 2000, US alone had some 4000 higher education institutions.


Furthermore, from seventeenth century, governments influence on universities began to increase as the religious influence was beginning to wane. In fact, university today can neither be strictly classified as private or public, but unique. And while more than 80% of European universities would classify as ‘public,’ the majority of leading US universities are private foundations, and most civic universities in Britain have foundation status. And compared to American or British universities, the European, Japanese, and Chinese universities are heavily regulated by the state. Whereas, the Anglo-Saxon universities (American, British, and Australian), enjoy more autonomy than anywhere in the world. Influence is exercised by their governments indirectly by their governments through incentive systems and performance based funding.


And as higher education continues to massify globally in order to include those from lower income brackets, public funding to universities has been declining. And the governments are encouraging universities to innovate and reduce overdependence on public funding. And research has also has shown that heavy regulation by the state can stifle creativity and ability of universities to think out of box and react promptly to the opportunities and threats in their operating environments. Hence, the current global trend is tilting towards shifting of the university to the American and British governance models that give universities more autonomy.


Finally, the University of Juba has many values that support our vision. Beside cherishing independent thought, celebration of scholarship, creativity, and initiative; is the University autonomy. Thus, through our governing structures, guided by our internal statues; and what we see to serve the best interests of our students and staff, we will continue to respond promptly to trends and changes in our operating environments, nationally, regionally, and globally.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Towards a Service-Oriented and Borderless University

By John A Akec*

The University of Juba was founded in 1975 on a simple, yet powerful idea of ‘relevance’ – the imperative of addressing itself to tackling the pressing societal needs of the time. Hence, from the late 1970s, and throughout the 1980s, the University of Juba sought to train civil servants for the then autonomous government of Southern Sudan. The initial focus of the studies was on education, natural and environmental studies, social and economic studies, adult education and training, and later, medicine. These were areas of great priority for Southern Sudan. And beginning around 1997, our University started to expand horizontally to offer programmes in diverse professional fields such as law, engineering, business and management, arts and humanities, fine arts, music, and drama. By early 2000, a number of specialized centres were established that included centres of peace and development studies, languages and translation, computer studies, geographical information systems, and diploma programmes covering a wealth of subject areas. And from 2015 to present day, we have added more schools, institutes, and specialized centres. These include: School of Public Service (SPS), School of Mathematics, School of Journalism, Media & Communication Studies, School of Veterinary Sciences, Kuajok Community College, and Graduate College responsible for coordinating the postgraduate programmes across the entire University.


What’s more, the University launched the National Transformational Leadership Institute (NTLI) by 2016, followed by upgrading the Centre of Peace and Development Studies to Institute of Peace, Development, and Security Studies (IPDSS) in 2017. As a result of recent expansions, our student and teaching staff populations have risen from 10,000 students and 291 academic staff in March 2014 to 24,000 students and 800 academic staff in September 2020 respectively. About 2,000 of the student population are postgraduates. This is the highest number of students and academic staff our University has ever recorded since teaching began in October 1977. It is welcome news which will inevitably pose its own challenges in forms of additional spaces for teaching the increased class sizes, and recruitment of additional faculty to teach new curricula. Such ‘externalities’ are inevitable and will have to be managed with creativity and wisdom they deserve.    


And that is not all. In academic year starting January 2021, the University of Juba is planning to launch new schools that include School of Petroleum and Minerals; School of Architecture, Land Management, Regional and Urban Planning; School of Medical Laboratory Sciences; School Public Health & Nursing; and School of Pharmacy. New centres will include a Centre for Law Development at the School of Law, and Centre for Laboratory Technicians Training at the School of Education. The Deans’ Board has also agreed to launch evening undergraduate programmes in law, business and management, social and economic studies, and computer science and information technology starting this academic year 2020/2021.


Furthermore, a new multidisciplinary master of science in entrepreneurship will be launched in this academic year. Areas of focus include agribusiness, environmental innovation, financial innovation, and social entrepreneurship. This master’s programme is being supported by a grant from Regional Universities for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) as part of its community outreach programme that aims at enhancing food and nutritional security, improving agricultural value chain, beefing up local agro-industries, and transfer of agri-technologies. It also aims at creating self-employment opportunities for women and youth.

Moreover, the School of Public Service is planning to team up with the University of Warwick and Open University of UK on the one hand; and the Ministry of Public Service on the other hand, to launch capacity building programme for government officials. A pilot project launch is in the pipeline.

To conclude, Charles R. Van Hise who served as President of the University of Wisconsin in Madison from 1903 to 1918, once declared at the start of his tenure: “I shall never be content until the beneficent influence of the university reaches every family of the state…the borders of the campus are boundaries of the state.” That declaration he called ‘the Wisconsin Idea.’ This ‘Wisconsin Idea” was emulated by others and became the defining feature of the American university model to this day.


If anything, this historical note from American land-grant university gives us every confidence to continue along the path we long began to chart.  


*First published in JUVARSITY Vol 3 No. 4 September 2020

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Why Chance Favors the Prepared Mind?

By John A. Akec*

When the University of Juba announced a contingency Plan C which meant delivering a home-based learning that is supported wholly by arrays of digital technologies, some concerns were expressed by many of our stakeholders (students, parents, and government officials) about the feasibility of such a project in South Sudan’s context. And I do understand their concerns.


And before I delve into addressing such concerns, I would like to explain something about different plans the University of Juba considered for teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic.


First, Plan A was the normal academic calendar that would have seen teaching beginning in May 2020. This plan was rendered useless under Covid-19 lockdown and closure of schools and universities in March 2020. The closure of schools and churches has not been lifted until the date of this writing. Towards the end of May, the University of Juba deliberated on Plans B, C, and D that described different teaching scenarios as follows:


First, Plan B involves a hybrid system of learning in which students mostly (from science-based schools and departments), all first year and all final year students will be taught in small classes that are spread out throughout the day with teaching contact hours reduced by 50%. Under this scenario, students would download lecture notes online or given printed lecture notes during the lecture (for those with no access to internet). However, majority of students from social sciences, arts, and humanities will entirely depend on material delivered over the internet, or printed material delivered through other means, for their home-based distance learning, until situation change.


Second, Plan C expressed the adoption of complete home-based/eLearning approach in which students will have no direct face to face teaching as described earlier in the introduction of this article. Namely, students will use various digital technologies and online resources for their instruction and learning.


Third, Plan D stands for a scenario in which the University of Juba administration and faculty just “wait and see” what the government will decide. The Deans’ Board and the Senate of the University, through their various meetings conducted in recent weeks, flatly rejected Plan D (also called “Do Nothing Scenario”); and proposed Plan B as the best of the two worlds (between doing it in the old conventional way, or doing nothing) in the face of Covid-19 Pandemic, while endorsing Plan C as the minimum scenario to adopt. That is, provide some learning if Pan B does not get government approval.  


Plan B was applauded by most students, while Plan C got a mixed reaction.  Some of our stakeholders approved Plan C as necessary in the face of continued closure of universities, while others condemned it as infeasible, or amounts to “damping down of the quality of university education.” These stakeholders prefer that we wait until such time when it is possible to open all universities. Weak ICT infrastructure in the country and ICT illiteracy among students deem this project impossible, they claimed.


In addressing the above concerns, I presented several arguments.


First, I reminded them that some learning is better than no learning. In fact, studies have shown that long periods spent without engaging in some learning lead to deterioration in learner’s academic and intellectual abilities (this concern was expressed by UNESCO leaders recently in the context of South Sudan).


Second, I urged that the University of Juba as well as all other South Sudan’s universities to see the challenge of teaching in era of pandemic as an opportunity to close the digital divide and catch up with the rest of the world by harnessing the available digital learning technologies to the full potential. In one of my radio talk shows, I reminded listeners about the fact that the opportunity for digital connectivity in South Sudan today are much better than the US and Europe’s in the late 1990s and early 2000’s. I lived in Europe during that time and I can testify to that experience.


Thirdly, that we will provide choices to suit conditions and needs of different students and staff for access to online learning and teaching resources. A special taskforce set up to study opportunities and available digital technologies for online and distance learning, as well as institutional ICT-readiness, has delivered its report. We are also talking to different technology providers to explore how we may improve our digital infrastructure.


Finally, come 31 August 2020, we will start teaching under plan B or C. This goes to support the mantra that “chance favors the prepared mind!”



* Was first published in Juvarsity Vol 03 Issue 03 August 2020

Monday, July 13, 2020

Rebranding of the University of Juba

By John A. Akec

Eagles inspire humans in many ways. They soar up in the sky and defy the gravity to steal a broad view of the earth. We can only look and wish we were eagles to enjoy such a feat. What’s more, as popular story goes, when an eagle hits the age of 40 years, they go up the mountains and spent months shedding their old feathers, and putting on new once, before coming down invigorated to live for another 30 years. Biologists dismiss this story as a myth. But nevertheless, it’s a story that has inspired many a CEO for millennia.

The University of Juba has already passed its 40th year since the teaching began in October 1977. And it is absolutely important to ask ourselves the hardest questions: how are we being perceived by our stakeholders and the general public? In other words, how does our brand name stands today, and how may we maintain our brand name long into the future?

Foremost, we need to remind ourselves that a good brand name is not what you think you are, but what your public believes you really are, be that good or bad. And since our inception, the University of Juba has stood for “Excellence, and Relevance”, and we still do stand for those important values. Yet in changing world and context, we had to rebrand and find a new battle cry some six years ago. Namely, “Inventing the future, transforming society.

Gone are the days when our prime mission was to train civil servants for the then autonomous government of Southern Sudan. Now, our mission in the context of an independent South Sudan has changed and grown to encompass, among other things, a full commitment to “national economic empowerment and social transformation through provision of quality education, pursuit of relevant research, promotion of innovation, facilitation of technology transfer, revival of national cultural heritage, protection of the environment, and service to community.”

This broad mission statement, however, does not mean we want to become all things to all people, but to stand to be counted when tackling pertinent national socioeconomic challenges through research and innovation; as well as providing high quality education to our students, and being of service to the communities in which we are embedded. It should not be a mere  lips service, but a lived reality.

The above goals need to be reflected in our brand. Our brand image and our actions should be in complete harmony.  In the age of social media which has empowered and placed the public in the centre of power, if an institution of higher learning like us does not give them a good story  to to tell, they will give us their own story reflexive of how how they perceive our brand. And that calls for universities to have activity and consistent web presence.

As pertaining to maintaining our image, we have embarked on improving the looks and feel of our campus’ landscape, our entrance gates, our lecture halls, our libraries, our laboratories, and our student spaces. However, we did not stop at the improvement of the physical environment but have contracted KAVIBE, a Kampala-based branding company, to critique the design of our website and propose improvements, review and revamp our logo, and design for us the material for marketing and advocacy. These include University prospectus, flyers, and pull ups.

Yet more importantly, we as University of Juba need to stand for something. This will position us high in the minds of our prospective students and their future employers relative to other institutions of tertiary education, nationally and regionally. We can do this by identifying areas of strength and comparative advantage and strive to excel in them.

The question is: do we want to be known for our high quality research and teaching in engineering, in medicine, in law, in economics, in business, in education, in agriculture, in music and arts, in urban planning, in mathematics, in sciences, in computing? In one or two or all of above? And when we say we are “inventing the future and transforming society”, does our actions match our words?

I do believe that the answer lies in the action of each dean, head department, and lay academic. In short, it depends on all of us making our own contributions and pulling our institutional boat into the shores we want.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Adapting Our Teaching Methods to the 'New Normal'

The current Covid-19 pandemic has led to closure of schools and universities in most but few countries. As a consequence, there is a temporary loss of education for 70% of the learners globally, accordingly to recent a UNESCO report. The WHO also warned its member states that the pandemic is going to be here for sometimes, and that countries need to learn to live with it. Thus, by implication, universities are required to adapt their teaching methods to allow distance and online learning to take place, if they are to remain viable in the age of lockdowns and social distancing imposed by the pandemic. Hence, this ‘new normal’ does place an enormous pressure on the University of Juba’s staff to rise up to the challenge. Our academic year was scheduled to start in May 2020, but was suspended indefinitely due to Coivd-19 lockdown that came into effect in March 2020.

After much waiting without a clear direction from the government’s High Level Taskforce on Covid-19, the Deans’Board at the University of Juba met on Friday 29th May 2020 for consultations, and agreed a road map and options for providing alternative education to our students through a variety of strategies and approaches. These include but not limited to smaller group face-to-face teaching, halving instructor-students contact time, provision of distance learning through a variety of online learning digital platforms such as MOOCs (massive open online courses), and distribution of learning materials electronically. Furthermore, we need to consider broadcasting of our lectures through radio and television, and the use of internet video conferencing and communication technologies such as WhatsApp, Skype, and Zoom as substitutes to face-to-face teacher-and-student interaction. A technical working group has been established to assess our institutional readiness, identify opportunities and challenges, survey different digital learning platforms available and to make their recommendations to advise the University on technological solutions that can be adapted that can work in the South Sudan context.

And there is no question that our academic and administrative staff are going to be obliged to fuly embrace communication technologies in their teaching and day-today-work in order to keep their jobs. It will be a do-or-die situation for those who have not until now embraced the digital technologies as part of their professional productivity toolkit. The University of Juba Administration will do whatever possible to assist those facing challenges in integrating communication technology into their teaching by providing some training. However, individual efforts to climb the digital ladder will be inevitable if one wants to succeed.

Furthermore, we would like the public to know that our short and medium term strategy for reopening the University will be to reduce the physical contact hours significantly in order to reduce the risk of spread of coronavirus. For example, a 2-hour lecture will be halved to 1 hour during which students are given handouts or instructor prepared notes, and are then quickly taken through by the instructor through the main points, and given opportunity to ask questions. The students then go away to study and explore the subject on their own at home, and communicate any further questions to the instructor by email or WhatsApp or any agreed electronic communication channel.

Finally, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the challenge of delivering education in the era of Covid-19, my colleagues and I at the University of Juba are thinking that it is an opportunity for universities and the country to embrace digital technologies in teaching and at work. And so, the way forward is to improve the digital infrastructure at our institutions by devoting more resources and budgets for that purpose, and by reaching partnerships with relevant bodies in the public, private, and NGO sectors.

Education is the light into a better future for the millions of our children and young people. And hence, it cannot wait. The ‘new normal’ is to learn to thrive despite the hazards posed by the pandemic to our world. All that is required of us is to shift gears and up the game.

I am pretty certain that we will manage just fine.

Monday, May 04, 2020

South Sudan: Rethinking Covid-19 Response

By John Apuruot Akec*

Given the speed of the virus, there is a need to review our national Covid-19 response strategies in order to accelerate our readiness and gain a head start on the virus.

Just in one month, our country has moved from 4 Covid-19 cases to 49 cases, and still increasing. And judging by the steep rise in numbers of Covid-19 cases elsewhere, such as seen in Somalia, where the number of cases shot up sharply from just 4 cases and no deaths at the beginning of April, to 722 cases and 32 deaths by the first week of May 2020; one can estimate that South Sudan could see the number of cases rising to 4,600 by June, and possibly 460,000 by August or September 2020 (if ever we are able to test and report them). This calls for a pause and rethinking of our current strategies for combating coronavirus pandemic.

Firstly, in order to measure the level of prevalence of the virus in the community, there is a clear need to move quickly to widespread testing of at least 500 cases per week at selected clinics and primary health care centres across Juba city. This was agreed by the High Level Taskforce on Covid-19 some three weeks ago. Once the 500 tests per week target has been attained, the testing needs to be expanded to include screening of healthcare workers, UN agency employees, and members of the organised forces. This will ensure that members of the above institutions that are actively engaged in providing essential services during the lockdown, do not themselves become the vehicles of transmission of coronavirus in the community. The realisation of widespread testing calls for mobilisation of resources for purchasing vital equipment, expanding lab testing capacity, provision of protective equipment for frontline health sector workers, and and hiring of additional healthcare staff.

Lack of equipment and personnel may be partly blamed for the delays. However, chronic institutional incapacity, challenges in the allocation of scarce resources, and questions regarding transparency within and between key stakeholders could be undermining the trust in and effectiveness of the High Level Taskforce. Moving forward, these hindrances require addressing in order to remove the bottlenecks.

Second, there is a need to develop clear guidelines for the management of positive cases and quarantining regimes and protocols in a way that speaks to our different scenarios and circumstances. Current quarantining practices involving compulsory removal of positive cases for isolation away from their families are creating fear and stigma in the community. Increasingly, people are getting discouraged to report Covid-19 cases, and many suspected individuals tend to reject testing for fear of social consequences and fear of mistreatment in the hands of authorities.  It is becoming more apparent that current procedures are a result of adoption, in ad hoc manner, of quarantining procedures that are nothing more than mechanical mimicry of what the developed and highly resourced countries are pursuing, while stopping short of transparency culture prevalent in those jurisdictions that are being uncritically emulated.

Third, preparedness in terms of raising testing capacity, and capacity to treat critical cases, is on standstill. At best, some preparations may be taking place behind the scene in an atmosphere bereft of transparency. This is a point of departure from the western systems that are being copied. Citizens and stakeholders deserve to be furnished with all facts on how the country is preparing to fight the pandemic, including highlighting areas of challenges.

Finally, coordination and distribution of roles (the role of High Level Taskforce on Covid-19, technical committees of the Taskforce, the Ministry of Health, other line ministries involved, NGOs, business community, academia, and civil society all need to be clearly defined. While contributions are streaming in cash and in kind, few know how much has been contributed overall, and whether or not there are gaps in provisions.

In addition, the High Level Taskforce currently spends much time approving the daily cargo flights for different organisations, instead of delegating that role to the relevant public institutions, NGOs, and civil society. Left unchecked, the work of the Taskforce could unwittingly combine the roles of the lawmaker, prosecutor, judge, and jury. The role of a government body such as High Level Taskforce on Covid-19 is to make high level policies and delegate their implementation to executive agencies within and outside the government, which is in line with the principle of separation of powers. Furthermore, social policies requiring empathy and compassion are best outsourced to civil society, organised interest groups, and non-profit sector for implementation.

To conclude, the work of High Level Taskforce on Covid-19 could be improved immensely by considering and removing the bottlenecks enumerated above.  

*Professor John Apuruot Akec is the Vice Chancellor of the University of Juba, South Sudan; and the Chair of University of Juba Covid-19 Response Committee.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Lets’ marshal our collective resources to combat COVID-19 pandemic in South Sudan

By John Apuruot Akec*

“My heart is in Africa. I am worried. The only reason why the reported cases of coronavirus disease in Africa is low now is most likely because there has not been wide testing of people. The disease is going to bite hard on the continent. I see dead bodies in the street of Africa,” Melinda Gates told CNN’s interviewer two weeks ago. And she is right to be worried.

For once, Mrs. Gates is worried like countless other voices are, because of the well known dire state of health care and social protection systems in most African countries. These weak systems will not easily cope with the pandemic of scale of COVID-19 that has overwhelmed even the health care services of the more technologically advanced and financially resourced countries. And worried we must all be.
The recent scenes of people having to store the bodies of their loved ones at home for days, before their burial in Ecuador in Latin America, as well as the long queues at the cemeteries due to COVID-19 fatalities, serves as a horrific warning to us all about what might be in store for many countries of Sub-Sahara Africa, if nothing is done to prepare these countries to fend off the pandemic.
And when COVID-19 finally breaks out in Africa, as Mrs. Gates, the World Health Organisation, the UN, and analysts fear is going to materialize in the next few weeks and months, the fatalities from COVID-19 pandemic will be like nothing we have experienced in our lifetime.

The new SARS-coronavirus-COV2, shortly referred to as COVID-19, was first reported in Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019. By Sunday 19th April 2020, it has spread to 208 countries and territories, infecting 2,331,099 and causing the death 160,952 people globally, and still counting.
But the history of pandemics is rife with scary tales and horrible statistics.

For example, by 2012 HIV/Aid claimed 35 million lives in its 30 years of spread, mostly in Africa. HIV/Aids epidemics was preceded by the Spanish influenza that broke out in the US in 1918, just at the end of the First World War. By 1920, it had infected 500 million individuals and killed 50 million people globally, three times the casualties of the the First World War. Before that, was the Third Plague in 1855 that killed 10 million in India. This was also preceded by Black Death which ravaged the world for 7 years from 1346 to 1353, and killed a staggering 200 million people, equivalent to half of the population of the world which was 400 million at the time. Hence, we have every reason to be scared, but above all, to act in order to reduce fatalities in our country. 

Poor infrastructure, weak bureaucracy, and undeveloped health care system in South Sudan will pose multiple threats to lives in the face of impending COVID-19 pandemic. According to credible sources, the number of beds in Juba Teaching Hospital does not exceed 40. That 90 percent of health care in the country is provide by NGOs and private clinics. Many of these private clinics are under resourced in terms of equipment, staffing, and bed capacity.

Every year, universities graduate over 100 medical doctors, but very few of these graduates are employed by the Ministry of Health due to inadequate budgetary allocation and poor planning. And those few employed by the Ministry of Health are underpaid, and eventually get poached by international NGOs that offer better remuneration. Donor medical assistance to the country is channeled through NGOs because of the perceived incapacity of public heath care system to manage funds and deliver services to donors’ satisfaction. If COVID-19 breaks out, neither the Ministry of Health, nor private clinics, nor NGOs will be equipped enough to manage and treat serious cases that require hospitalisation. The consequences will be catastrophic for the country.

Following the increasing concern about the threat of pandemic, South Sudan took a series of preventive measures since 23rd March 2020, that included: closing the Juba International Airport to international passenger flights, closing of international border crossings to movement of people except cargo. Subsequent circulars followed which included the reduction of official working hours by half, closure of shops with exception of those selling food, medicines, or fuel. As of 14 April 2020, air and land passenger transportation between capital Juba and states, and between states and other states were suspended.

On the other hand, the University of Juba has formed a COVID-19 Response Committee with the goal of contributing to national response against the pandemic. The Committee made a presentation to the High Level Taskforce on COVID-19 on 7th April 2020 expressing University of Juba position, and making several recommendations to government Taskforce on how the national response to COVID-19 can be improved.

The first recommendation is that lockdown policies need to be informed by South Sudan’s unique socioeconomic conditions, cultural values, and demographic patterns. For example, the fact that 70% of South Sudanese population are below 30 years of age, and that 81% of our citizens live in rural areas can be used to design targeted epidemic control policies. The University of Juba has undertaken a rapid socio-economic impact of COVID-19 study, and will soon share the results with the High Level Taskforce.

Second recommendation is that social distancing and lockdown policies are mere mechanisms to delay the transmission of COVID-19 in the country and “flatten the epidemic curve.” But these measures are not the only means of combating the pandemic. Inevitably, the rates of infections are going to rise; and if our health care system cannot support large number of the critically ill patients, hundreds and thousands of lives can be lost.

The University of Juba preliminary position paper urged High Level Taskforce on COVID-19 to mobilise adequate resources as early as possible for tracing, testing, and treating the cases when the outbreak occurs. The report estimates that South Sudan needs at least USD 60 million to prepare for the outbreak. This preparedness budget includes building makeshift emergency hospital facilities with a capacity of 1000 beds, 1000 ventilators, 100 intensive care units, 3000 protective gears for frontline health workers, among others. It also included the cost of hiring 50 medical consultants, 300 mid-level and junior doctors, 500 nurses, 200 lab and support technicians, and 50 staff for managing COVID-19 emergency response centre.

Thirdly, that the government needs to mobilise all government ministries, commissions, UN agencies, international and national NGOs, business community, academia, and civil society; and pool the available resources, as well as repurposing all institutional capabilities in order to jointly fight the virus.

Here, the High Level Taskforce is urged to pursue this goal with vision, heightened sense of purpose, transparency, and urgency. Right now, every organisation and institution in South Sudan, including international NGOs, development partners, and UN agencies are pursuing their separate COVID-19 responses. This will lead to duplication of efforts and waste of resources, while achieving nothing significant.

As Mark Twain once noted, the best way to get ahead is to get started. For COVID-19, a time wasted in inaction means thousands of lives will be needlessly lost. We have seen how in the most resourced countries, government foresight and taking action in a timely manner, contributes immensely to reducing the death toll due to the pandemic. We wish we acted earlier, is a common sigh of regret heard, time and again, coming from key political decision-makers around the globe. We do not want to be on that list.

Thankfully, it has been agreed last week by the High Level Taskforce on COVID-19 to divide Juba into 5 zones, and that in each zone, selected clinics will test patients showing flu-like symptoms for COVID-19. This will allow the country to test up to 500 cases of COVID-19 in one week. This will assure us there are no active COVID-19 cases in the community, or otherwise. Let us then mobilise human resources to implement this plan. Next, let us open a COVID-19 account that will be prudently and transparently managed so that the citizens, businesses, and well wishers can deposit their contributions towards the response in that account. Next, let us ask for medical doctors, nurses, lab technicians, and laypersons from all walks of life, be that in the country or outside the country, to register their interest in joining the fight against COVID-19 pandemic. 

The University of Juba is going to get that organised during this passing week. Next, let us agree on the salary and financial support package for our health workers who will be the foot-soldiers in the war against COVID-19. Furthermore, lets us think about health workers and medical personnel’s protective gear, their mobility, their accommodation, their sustenance, and the equipment they will need to successfully manage the deadly and contagious virus. And equally important, let us think about how we are going to materially support the hundreds of volunteers that we will need to assist us to defeat the epidemic. In other words, thoughtful, targeted, comprehensive, and prompt action will speak louder than words.

 *Professor John Apuruot Akec is the Vice Chancellor of the University of Juba, South Sudan; and chairman of University of Juba COVID-19 Response Committee.