|© UNICEF Southern Sudan/2010/Swangin|
|A young child is weighed in the main hospital in northern Bhar El Ghazal State, Southern Sudan.|
Southern Sudan’s referendum on independence continues for the rest of this week as its people look to rebuilding after years of conflict. Here is a related story.
By Bismarck Swangin
JUBA, Southern Sudan, 12 January 2011 – It is nearly daybreak outside Juba's El Shabbah Children’s Hospital, where a group have women wait patiently to be let in. Soon after sunrise, their patience is rewarded as the hospital springs to life like a well-oiled machine.
In short order, the electric power is switched on in all the rooms and offices, the hospital pharmacy opens its doors, and doctors start taking the babies into their surgeries.
But according to the manager of the facility, Dr. Justin Tongun Bruno, things have not always run so smoothly. "Just a few years ago, this whole place was ransacked," he says. "There was nothing here."
‘Things are so much better’
Juba, which had been a garrison town for troops of the northern Sudan Armed Forces, was deeply scarred by more than two decades of north-south civil war. Its health-care infrastructure was stripped to the bone.
Dr. Tongun and his team arrived soon after the peace accord that ended the war in 2005. They began the arduous task of rebuilding the hospital. Five years on – thanks to the hard work of the staff and aided by a variety of development organizations, including UNICEF – the situation has clearly changed.
"There are still many things that need to improve," says Dr. Tongun. "The electricity sometimes goes off, the beds are limited, but overall, things are so much better."
By mid-morning, a young mother named Elizabeth Muria is waiting in one of the doctor's surgeries with her three-month-old son Tindi John in her arms. This is already his third visit to the hospital for a range of post-natal check-ups and treatments.
Tindi is Ms. Muria's first baby, and she is too young to remember any other level of health care operating in her part of Juba. "I am very happy with it," she says enthusiastically.
UNICEF’s crucial role
There may be no UNICEF logos or posters on view, but the agency's work has been crucial to the development of the hospital and other health centres across the region. Tindi’s check-up is one of the first steps in a life-saving ‘Accelerated Child Survival Initiative’ drawn up by UNICEF and Southern Sudan's health authorities.
“The aim is very clear,” says Dr. Romanus Mkerenga, head of UNICEF's Health and Nutrition Programme here. “At the moment, health indicators across the whole region are very bad. But we are going to be doing everything we can.”
UNICEF is working with non-governmental organizations and government partners to push forward a range of ‘jump-start’ programmes to get those health indicators moving in the right direction – everything from child mortality to immunization. Most of the indicators have already started to improve at El Shabbah hospital, which provides a range of services, including polio and measles vaccinations, de-worming tablets, vitamin A supplementation and breastfeeding promotion.
Meanwhile, there are plans to use the same accelerated approach for distribution of insecticide-treated bed nets to fight malaria across Southern Sudan. This work has started is some areas, but funding is an issue.
“We are aiming to give at least two to three nets per household, so this is a big programme,” says UNICEF’s Dr. Mkerenga
UNICEF has also worked with Southern Sudan's Ministry of Health, helping to draw up a new health policy and providing consultants and experts to expand specific areas of care. “In many ways,” notes Dr. Mkerenga, “UNICEF is a supportive backbone for health services in Southern Sudan.”