Despite Civil War, South Sudan’s Maternal Health Shows Improvement

Saturday, 13 April, 2019 - 10:00 -

Despite Civil War, South Sudan’s Maternal Health Shows Improvement

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In this photo taken Monday, March 11, 2019, a mother sits beside her newborn in the ward for premature babies at the Juba Teaching Hospital, in the capital Juba, South Sudan. (AP Photo/Sam Mednick)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Maternal health in South Sudan has improved over the past period as a result of a concerted effort by the government and partners to dramatically increase the number of trained midwives.

The country, which saw a civil war that killed almost 400,000 people, has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world

Seated in a stifling hallway in South Sudan's main hospital, the midwife recounted the day she watched a young mother bleed to death after giving birth, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

"She died while holding my hand," said Aber Evaline, hanging her head. Her patient was one of more than 40 women who died in Juba's Teaching Hospital in 2016.

For every 100,000 live births in South Sudan an estimated 789 mothers die, according to 2015 statistics from the United Nations and the World Bank.

However, by last year deaths in Juba's Teaching Hospital, regarded as the best in the country, had dropped to 21, said Evaline, one of four midwives there.

This drop in death has been attributed to a joint effort by South Sudan's government and partners that began before the civil war erupted in 2013.

It has dramatically increased the number of trained midwives from less than 10 when the program started seven years ago to more than 700 today. The project also provides scholarships, training and other support for clinics and schools across the country of some 12 million people.

The initiative has made "sexual and reproductive health and rights closer to reality for the women of South Sudan," Mary Otieno, the United Nations Population Fund's country chief, told AP.

The effects are not limited to the capital. For three consecutive years clinics serving the displaced persons' site in Mingkaman registered zero maternal deaths, while the clinic in the UN's civilian protection site in Wau has had zero deaths since it opened in 2016, the UN fund said.

Immense challenges remain. While 15% of the government's budget is meant to be allocated for overall health care, less than 2% is being received, said Felix Lado Johnson, the minister of health for the capital, Juba.

The government estimates that it needs 10 times the number of trained midwives across the country to further reduce the number of deaths. Trained midwives rarely find government jobs, however, leading many to work with international aid groups. State-run hospitals need the midwives' expertise but often cannot pay them.