South Sudan: Women hope independence brings better maternal care (IPS, Al Jazeera)

| July 25, 2011

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Jessicah Foni, aged 36, has eight children. But she lost two babies at birth due to the lack of medical facilities where she lives. She hopes that maternal health care will improve in the newly-independent Republic of South Sudan. She says, “I come from a very remote village that is far away from any medical facility. I have lost two children due to problems related to delivery. Our new government should build hospitals close to us so that we can access medication.”

South Sudan has one of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world. Earlier this year, the UN stated that one in seven South Sudanese women is likely to die because of complications from delivery. Just 10 per cent of South Sudanese women have access to health professionals during childbirth.

Grace Joan, aged 26, is a mother of five. She has never delivered any of her children in hospital. She says, “When my time is due, I just call a neighbour who helps me deliver my children.” She also has high hopes for better health care in South Sudan. She says, “I am happy that we have our freedom, which will enable the government to provide health facilities to all people so that women and children do not die of preventable diseases.”

Dr. Abdinasir Abubakar is the medical officer in charge of the World Health Organization office for South Sudan. He says that the harsh living conditions, coupled with very limited access to basic health services, contribute to the poor health of the population. Dr. Abubakar says only 25 per cent of South Sudanese have access to medical facilities.

The most common diseases reported in health facilities are preventable diseases like malaria and diarrhea.  Preventable diseases are common and dangerous in children. Dr. Abubakar says, “Preventable infectious diseases and malnutrition are the most common causes of morbidity and mortality for children under five years of age.”

The newest country in Africa has big plans. Dr. Olivia Lomoro is the Under Secretary in the Ministry of Health. She said the government has drafted a five-year National Health Framework, in collaboration with the World Health Organization. The framework commits government to addressing the acute shortage of medical personnel and facilities. A new hospital is planned for the capital city of Juba, and new medical schools will open in each of South Sudan’s ten states.

In the short term, South Sudan’s health care system cannot cope with the demand. According to Medecins Sans Frontieres, an international medical NGO, about 80 per cent of the medical care in South Sudan is provided by international aid groups. Many South Sudanese in rural areas must walk for days to reach a clinic.

For women like Jessicah Foni and Grace Joan, new health care facilities in their new country cannot come soon enough.