A baby sits on her mother’s lap in South Sudan.
Mohsin Saeed Khan
By Julia Kayser*
September 14, 2012—UMCOR has been working in South Sudan since 2006. Its focus has been on improving conditions for thousands of internally displaced persons, who live in camps and often lack access to basic hygiene and education. UMCOR has built schools, constructed latrines, and worked with communities to build self-sufficiency. UMCOR is currently developing programs in maternal and child health.
This is because, right now, the outlook for new life in South Sudan is bleak. Fifteen percent of babies die in childbirth. A third of the babies and toddlers that survive become underweight due to malnourishment. Malaria, diarrhea, and respiratory infections are widespread, and only 17 percent of children under five get immunized.
When all is said and done, 25 percent of children born in South Sudan die before their fifth birthday. Even for those that survive childhood, the average life expectancy is only about 42 years. And mothers risk a 2 percent chance of death during childbirth—the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.
Why is the health situation so dire in South Sudan? It has been a land in conflict since the eighteenth century, when many African nations fought territorial wars. In the late nineteenth century, European colonial powers divided up the map of Africa without regard to existing ethnic and cultural boundaries, and combined South Sudan with the Arab desert to its north. The resulting country, Sudan, gained independence from Britain and Egypt in 1956. Conflicts between the Arab north and the Christian/animist south led to two civil wars and South Sudan’s independence from the north in 2011. Interethnic warfare is still widespread.
South Sudan’s recent wars have killed as many as two million people and displaced an estimated four million. They have destroyed physical infrastructure and virtually all of the medical facilities (except those controlled by the military). Most of South Sudan’s population practices subsistence farming, but land mines limit agricultural production. As a result, 90 percent of South Sudan’s population lives on the equivalent of less than $1 per day.
UMCOR Global Health’s top priority in South Sudan is to “prevent maternal deaths and improve child survival.” UMCOR plans to build and renovate health facilities, equip local clinics to deliver babies, provide family planning, and hire health professionals.
In addition, UMCOR is considering initiating school health services and Mobile Health Services Units, which can serve rural villages and refugee camps. UMCOR will seek to identify strengths of local communities and health clinics, encouraging them to build capacity and become independent.
Through these specific strategies, UMCOR hopes to improve delivery of maternal and child health programs and nutrition programs. Here’s what you can do to help:
- Donate to Advance #184385, the Sudan Emergency fund, and choose South Sudan from the drop-down menu.
- Consider making a recurring monthly gift.
- Write a newsletter article or make an announcement about South Sudan for your local church, raising awareness and encouraging donations.
- The West Ohio Conference is working with UMCOR to build and equip a new clinic in Piol. Meet with your pastor to talk about partnering with UMCOR.
*Julia Kayser is a writer and regular contributor to www.umcor.org.