Canadian Ambassador to South Sudan narrates COVID-19 experience
Since SARS-Cov-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 struck South Sudan in late April, some diplomatic premises shut and the staff was forced to work remotely to avoid the organizational internal spread of the disease.
The Canadian Embassy was no exception as workers were sent to work from home. Unlike others, however, the embassy wasn’t completely closed – essential services were offered to those who needed them. This could explain how Ambassador Douglas Scott Proudfoot got infected by the deadly virus.
Proudfoot was airlifted to home country Canada for urgent and effective treatment. As of June, he was under the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at William Osler Health System’s Etobicoke General Hospital for ten days after prior admission to Respirology Unit. Proudfoot cannot ascertain how he got infected.
“I contracted COVID-19 while in Juba, South Sudan, although truthfully I’m not sure how. We were all working from home for the most part, with very few in-person meetings – but inevitably in diplomatic work, you eventually come in contact with people,” he said.
When Proudfoot began to feel unwell, his symptoms “escalated quickly,” he notes. The incapacitated state of the national lab in Juba meant the Ambassador couldn’t be tested for COVID-19 and instead, local medical professionals ran tests for several other diseases.
What was described as “ground glass” was found in his lungs after a body scan, prompting the government to allow his transportation to Canada. Proudfoot is glad he hasn’t reached the stage of getting put on a ventilator.
“Fortunately I never had to go a ventilator, but it was close,” he recalls. “At Etobicoke General, I received superb care. I’ve never been admitted to the hospital before, but I found the physicians and nurses were all there when I needed them. They kept me informed, anticipated my needs, and encouraged me to do certain things but didn’t insist on procedures I was uncomfortable with.
Still in Canada, recovering slowly and hoping to return to Juba in the next month, the diplomat has been out of the hospital for over three weeks and tested negative for the virus twice, but recuperation, he says, remained an uphill battle.
Proudfoot cautioned South Sudanese against dismissing the seriousness of COVID-19 saying the virus is not a hoax as many may want to believe.
“Having experienced a bad case myself, I can tell you it (COVID-19) can make one ill indeed. I am very lucky to be alive. The only hoax is the people who claim that COVID is a hoax, who are doing a dangerous disservice,” he told The City Review from Canada.
Proudfoot advised that South Sudan must not lose sight of the many other familiar threats to public health, or allow COVID to unduly disrupt the delivery of basic health services.
As a head of Canada’s diplomatic mission in South Sudan, his infection meant stagnation of operation at the embassy and subsequent reduction in output and productivity.
“With my illness and departure for Canada last month, our output was further affected; I obviously was in no condition to do anything for several weeks,” he said.
Despite the insistence on starting to work from home as he recovers, Proudfoot reckons that it will not be convenient enough as some tasks will not be accomplished.
“Now that I am on the road to recovery I am starting to work from Canada by phone and email, but it is not the same: there’s a reason we have embassies on the ground, so while my remaining colleagues continue to work from Juba, some parts of the ambassadorial role will not be fulfilled till I get back,” he told The City Review last week.