The three-month challenge

The seasonal rain turns the few roads into muddy tracks, holding every vehicle attempting to move hostage.

Nyanut with her sons Ngor (to the left) and Chan (to the right) at a health facility in Malakal.
UNICEF South Sudan
29 January 2019

The chunk of land, formerly known as Jonglei and Upper Nile, stretching from the east side of South Sudan, almost all the way to the middle and then north, is as big as Uganda – but the lack of roads makes it difficult to move around. The seasonal rain turns the few roads into muddy tracks, holding every vehicle attempting to move hostage. Yet, you know lives are at stake if you don’t make it by car, boat or foot.

At a health facility in Malakal, former Upper Nile state, two boys are struggling. “Ngor is normally a trouble maker,” Nyanut says with a sappy smile. “He always wants to play or eat and never wants to sleep.” She frowns and pause before she continues; “Now, he and his twin brother Chan are sick, and they are very quiet.”

Nyanut has brought her children to Malakal to be treated for fever, diarrhoea and vomiting. The cause is unknown, but the doctor is doing his best to find out.

Back in the field, the driver of the truck filled with medicines is steering slightly right to left to gain more traction to get through the mud. He is on his way to one of the 212 health facilities under the UNICEF-supported rapid result health project in this vast area known as the former states Jonglei and Upper Nile. This part of South Sudan has some of the worst health indicators in the country, and indeed the wider region/world, and the needs are great.

In Malakal, the doctor has given the two six-month-old boys something to reduce the fever. As soon as the drugs kick in and the fever subsides and their bodies can relax, the two boys fall asleep. They were lucky to see a doctor. The WHO recommendation is to have 44.5 health workers per 10,000 population. At 23/1000 is it critical, yet South Sudan has only 3.5 per 10,000 and Upper Nile and Jonglei most likely less.

In the field, the truck has finally just arrived at the clinic. Soon the valuable cargo of life-saving medicines and equipment will be offloaded and help women and children, children just like Ngor and Chan.

Delivering health services in Jonglei and Upper Nile is extremely challenging, yet UNICEF did not hesitate when asked to take over the health programme in the two former states for an interim period of three months during July to September 2018. Further, UNICEF was able to mobilize additional funding to extend the programme for another 4 months whilst a new health operation is being developed for 2019.

Despite the challenging environment and with thanks to our partners and MoH, 230,000 children saw a health worker and received treatment in the first three- month period. 19,500 children were vaccinated, 11,500 pregnant women received antenatal check-ups and more than 3,000 women delivered at a health facility.

UNICEF is committed to providing women and children in South Sudan with access to primary health care. Health is a human right, not a privilege.