Medical equipment and trained health workers save lives in South Sudan

World Bank supported operating theatre in Malakal Hospital provides elective surgeries and emergency obstetric care.

Robin Giri
Operating theatre in Malakal hospital
08 March 2022

The murmur of voices gets louder as we turn a corner on the raised concrete path that leads to the Comprehensive Emergency Obstetric and Neonatal Care (CEMONC) department of the Malakal Hospital. The concrete path is raised because this region is battered by recurrent floods for more than six months every year, which turns the ground into slush.  

We come across a huddle of health workers at the CEMONC centre, manned 24-hours a day by a general surgeon and an obstetrician-gynaecologist. They are supported by four midwives and related health staff, ready to provide emergency medical care for expecting mothers should they need it.

“The last few days have been a bit slow and we only have one expected delivery and she is being monitored closely,” says Dr. Amissi Longane, the 42-year-old surgeon, pointing to a young mother in the antenatal ward. “And of course, if there are any complications, we are ready to assist her,” he motions to the team standing by.

Health team at CEMONC centre
The health team of doctors, midwives and nurses at the CEMONC centre in Malakal hospital.

The Malakal Hospital in Upper Nile State and every other medical facility in this town was damaged from the repeated rounds of subnational violence from 2013 through 2017. This drastically reduced access to basic health and nutrition services for children and women; and immunization and infant and maternal mortality rates, already the highest in South Sudan, worsened considerably during this period.

To counter this, a health programme implemented since 2018 by the Ministry of Health, the World Bank and UNICEF, has been providing essential maternal and child health services to the most hard-to-reach populations in Jonglei and Upper Nile States. The World Bank-financed project provides critical medical equipment and supplies, which includes the training and payment for specialized health workers who provide life-saving services.

“This reestablishment of this operating theatre has made the difference between life and death for many of the rural residents, who arrive here from remote destinations by boat,” says Dr. Amissi. He shows us the operation theatre which is fully staffed with an onsite anaesthetist and an operation theatre attendant. Daily operations at the Malakal Hospital are overseen by UNICEF partner, International Medical Corps (IMC), and Dr. Amissi is a staff member of IMC.  

Since 2020, the Malakal Hospital has conducted 188 surgeries (111 male and 77 females) and includes C-sections for complicated deliveries, appendectomies, sutures and debridement and other surgical and CEMONC procedures.

“I feel very lucky that the hospital has these doctors. They did a C-section on me when I was giving birth to my son Chiar, who is nine months old now,” says Aluel Ngor, holding the young boy in her arms. She is here for a follow up visit at the outpatient centre where a doctor monitors her son’s health and immunization status to ensure that the little Chiar is up to date on all his vaccines.

Mother and son at the Malakal hospital
Aluel Ngor holds her son Chiar at the Malakal hospital.

The Malakal Hospital provides a wide array of basic health services, and also has a pharmacy. There is an Outpatient Therapeutic Treatment centre, with nutrition workers who monitor, detect and treat children under five who are suffering from malnutrition.

“The success of this integrated health programme is complemented by the community-based health workers in the remote communities who refer many children and mothers to the hospital here,” says Muhammad Idrees Khan, UNICEF’s Field Office Chief in Malakal.

This joint programme has been a lifeline for many residents in these regions who are now able to access specialized health care, such as elective surgeries which were not possible up until 2017.

The Ministry of Health, the World Bank and UNICEF want to build a broad coalition of partners and donors to support additional investment in the health sector in South Sudan. Meanwhile, the programme continues to provide medicines, nutritional supplies, medical equipment for the hospitals and health care centres, and trains health workers including midwives and nurses to raise awareness and prevention of HIV and Gender-Based Violence in their communities.