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What’s Behind South Sudan’s National Team Missing 2021 FIFA Competition

By Onen Walter Solomon, Juba

A Health official at the South Sudan’s Ministry of Health said the nine members of the delegation of the South Sudan national football team who tested positive for SARS-COV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, in Doha did not get tested from a government laboratory prior to departure to Qatar.

The team left Juba for Doha on Friday, June 18, to participate in the qualification match of the FIFA Arab Cup Qatar 2021. Doha health authorities tested the delegation upon arriving at the airport and found nine members positive for Covid-19. The match against Jordan was consequently not played and three points were awarded to the latter.

Dr. John Pasquale Rumunu, director general for preventive health services in the ministry of health, also the acting incident manager for Covid-19 told Juba Echo exclusively on Tuesday that the Ministry formed an investigation health team to verify the samples of all players plus a technical staff that a private lab, BioLab tested on June 17, 2021.

He said the test results done using three polymerase chain reaction (PCR) platforms at the government laboratory early this week, provided a different results to the one found in Qatar.

”The government laboratory confirmed six samples negative and three inconclusive; though they were given negative test results by the private lab,” reads the statement, explaining that ”the inconclusive result means that the level of virus in the body at the time of sample collection did not reach detection level.”

Dr. Rumunu said the health team also discovered that one of these players prior to travel, tested positive in BioLab, a ”functioning”, one of the private Labs in Juba, the Ministry of Health authorised to ease workload for pre-travel testing of increasing number of travellers and issue PCR results.

The Ministry of Health said the BioLab had not informed the health ministry about the test results before the team departed for Doha on June 18, 2021.

Dr. Rumunu said BioLab woud have notified the health ministry immediately so they could enter the details of such notice in the database and would have advised the national football team accordingly.”

”If we had gotten the information in time, we would have given advice to the football team who actually the member are contacts of the positive case not to travel  they should be quarantined,” Dr. Rumunu said, adding that the quarantine period is 14-days as stipulated by the Ministry of Health.

BioLab Manager Ngor Peter Garang Ngor said their only doctor who is in charge of submitting travelers’ covid-19 test results to the the health ministry on a daily basis did not show up on June 17.

“We were thinking he was sick and no one knew he was sick. He reported the next day,” said Dr. Garang.

Ministry of Health said that BioLab has violated its Guidelines for testing of Government or National Institutions’ delegates travelling outside the country, which should be tested in the government laboratory.

Dr. Garang said they called and gave the test results of 45 people to the national team doctor showing 1-person positive and 44-people presenting negative covid-19 results.

However, SSFA’s statement issued a statement on June 24, 2021 indicating that BioLab tested 42 samples; only one sample was found positive and was immediately excluded from the delegation.

Dr. Garang said the players were staying in the same hotel in Juba where there could be possible infections which could show up after 48 hours. He said the doctor would have let the team be re-checked prior to their departure to Doha.

“Even if we did not report, they should also report; they should not let the team to go and that will not be our mandate again because we informed them what about happened.”

Dr. Rumunu said the South Sudan laboratory is recognized and with a good reputation internationally. He declined to state if BioLab would be penalized for breaching the ministry of health’s guidelines but said they aim to ensure that private Labs adhere to guidelines.

”We are going to communication with the private labs,” Dr. Rumunu said.

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