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SOUTH SUDAN: Women Hope Independence Means Less Maternal Deaths

Protus Onyango

JUBA, Jul 8 2011 (IPS) - Mother of eight, Jessicah Foni, 36, hopes that independence will mean a hospital will soon be built in her village. Foni, who has travelled from a remote village in South Sudan to the state’s capital to celebrate independence, lost two babies at birth because of the lack of medical facilities in her area.

“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,” she said.

South Sudan has one of the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world. Out of 100,000 live births, 2,054 women die.

Dr. Abdinasir Abubakar, the medical officer in charge of the World Health Organization (WHO) office for South Sudan, said the harsh and unfavourable living conditions, coupled with very limited access to basic health services, contributes to the poor health status of the population

According to the Sudan Household Health Survey and the World Children’s Status Report 2008 by UNICEF, out of 1,000 live births in health institutions, 102 infants die.

It also found that only 48 percent of Sudanese women visit medical facilities during pregnancy while only 13 percent deliver at hospitals, attended to by skilled workers who constitute only 10 percent.

Grace Joan, 26, a mother of five says she has never delivered any of her children in hospital.

“When my time is due, I just call a neighbour who helps me deliver my children. But 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,” she said.

Abubakar says only 25 percent of South Sudanese have access to medical facilities, making it hard to provide services to the population.

“Preventable infectious diseases like malaria, presumed pneumonia and diarrhoea account for the majority of the reported diagnosis in health facilities for all health groups combined. Preventable infectious diseases and malnutrition are the most common causes of morbidity and mortality for children under five years of age,” he said.

But as South Sudan prepares to celebrate its independence on Jul. 9, experts and policy makers all agree that urgent steps have to be taken to address the health sector in the country.

Dr. Olivia Lomoro, the Under Secretary in the ministry of health says government is aware of the situation and has put in place systems to address the problem.

“For the past five years since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the government has taken over the payment of salaries to all the workers in the health sector. The government also procures and distributes all essential drugs for all the medical facilities. We had our first ever health symposium last month to discuss ways to improve the health sector,” she said.

Robert Kimani, who owns a small pharmacy in Juba, said life is very expensive in the city and residents would rather buy food than drugs – even if they are sick.

Dr. Meshack Adan, who works at the Juba Referral Hospital, the country’s biggest and only referral facility, said government should encourage people to use existing medical services.

“Where are the 75 percent of our people who don’t get medical services?” he asked.

Lomoro said government, in collaboration with WHO, have drafted a five-year National Health Framework which commits government to addressing the health situation in the country. The policy framework will allow government to address the acute shortage of personnel by training health personnel to improve services.

Abubakar said only 10 percent of the staffing needs are filled by qualified health workers and there is an urgent need to train doctors, clinical officers, and midwives, among others, to offer the best services to the people.

He called on government to reconstruct the country’s dilapidated medical facilities and to improve infrastructure so that medical staff can respond to emergencies.

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