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Maternal Mortality, a big challenge for the world’s newest nation

© UNICEF South Sudan/2013/Knowles-Coursin
Eunice Abbas, a mother who delivered a beautiful baby girl, Patience two weeks ago at Yambio hospital.

By: Mercy Kolok

12 July 2013 - With less than two years to the Millennium Development Goals, South Sudan still has a long way to go in order to reduce maternal mortality.

The world’s newest nation is ranked as one of the countries with the highest maternal mortality rates with 16 women dying daily due to pregnancy related complications. 

“The biggest challenge we have is that most women especially in rural areas still give birth at home under the care of traditional birth attendants who cannot handle complicated cases either because they do not understand the importance of giving birth in a health facility or the health facilities are too far,” said Janet Kele, the Director of Division of Nursing and Midwifery..

Lomuria Regina, a mother to twenty-day old twins narrowly escaped death when she had obstructed labour while giving birth to one of the twins. 

‘I would have died, were it not for the help I received at this health facility,” said a tired-looking Regina. ‘Now I know that the only safe place to have a baby is in a health facility under the care of qualified personnel,” she added.


Poor infrastructure, inadequate transport services, distance from health facilities and harmful social practices play a big role in maternal mortality in South Sudan. Most mothers only go to the hospital when the condition becomes too complicated for the traditional birth attendants to handle which in most cases is a little too late.

“In my village, most women deliver at home and there are times when women have difficult deliveries resulting in death of the mother or baby. Most people do not understand the importance of delivering in a health facility,” said Nakuru Lochebe- one of the few lucky survivors. 

According to the Director, Division of Nursing and Midwifery from the Ministry of Health, Ms. Janet Kele, there are about 20 qualified midwives to cater for the over 2.5 million women of child bearing age- meaning 1 midwife for every 125,000 women. A report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) ‘Trends in Maternal Mortality: 1990- 2010’ suggests that qualified midwives could reduce the cases of maternal mortality. 

In South Sudan, a girl is three times more likely to die from child birth than to enter Grade eight. Child marriage continues to affect thousands of girls hence undermining their development prospects and participation in education and other developmental activities. The 2010 Sudan Household Survey (SHHS) indicates that about 40% of girls are married when they are still children. Adolescent girls and their babies are at much higher risk of pregnancy related complications and death.

There is hope

The Government supported by a number of partners including UNICEF is stepping up efforts to improve maternal health throughout the country. A case in point is Western Equatoria State (WES).

The number of women accessing antenatal and post-natal care in WES has doubled since the opening of the maternity unit at Yambio Hospital in 2012. Through the generous support of the German National Committee, UNICEF supported the State Ministry of Health to build a maternity unit that consists of a labour room, nursery, post-natal ward, delivery room, theatre and labour ward to support women and children.

"We are happy to report that the number of women accessing maternal and child health services has greatly increased since the opening of the maternity unit. Thanks to UNICEF we can now accommodate more mothers at the maternity ward as compared to the previous years where we could only accommodate 14 women at a time,” said Dr. Ismail Mohammed, The Medical Director of Yambio Hospital in WES.

This has resulted in a decrease in the number of maternal deaths caused by pregnancy related complications. Also, more children born to HIV positive mothers are protected from transmitting the disease through the prevention-of-mother- to- child transmission (PMTCT) programme that offers counselling, testing and provision of drugs to HIV positive mothers.

An average of 50 women attend the antenatal clinics at the hospital on a daily basis, 21 normal and seven Caesarean deliveries are conducted on a weekly basis. Services at the maternity ward include physical examination of pregnant mothers, counselling and testing for HIV, provision of drugs for HIV positive mothers and health education. 

“It is unacceptable for anyone to die while giving life to another. UNCEF is committed to supporting the Government in ensuring that maternal mortality becomes a thing of the past,” said UNICEF’s Representative, Dr Yasmin Ali Haque.

South Sudan may not achieve the Millennium Development Goals but it is gradually making progress towards reducing maternal mortality.



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