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Women’s counseling in South Sudan – a victim of a distracted world | WGN 720 Radio

MINKAMAN, South Sudan (AP) — In a country with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, a small reproductive health clinic for more than 200,000 people is set to close. Worried mothers know all too well what can happen next.

“If the hospital closes, we will die more because we are poor,” said one mother-to-be, who gave her name only as Chuti. She was attending a monthly check-up at the Minkaman Reproductive Health Clinic in this town on the White Nile River, and it could be her last.

The United Nations has said it intends to shut down the clinic by December because of a lack of funding from European and other supporters. It’s just one casualty among many in developing countries as humanitarian donors suffer one crisis after another, from COVID-19 to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The UN did not say how much it costs to maintain the clinic.

A loss like the clinic is critical for people in places like Minkaman, which, along with the rest of South Sudan, has struggled to cope with the effects of a five-year civil war, climate shocks such as widespread flooding and ongoing insecurity that includes shocking indicators of sexual violence.

The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan has said that the war in Ukraine has led to a sharp cut in funding for emergency medical care for people affected by sexual violence. “It’s not that sexual violence ebbs and flows, it happens all the time, largely unnoticed,” said Commissioner Barney Afako. The commission also claims that the government has failed to invest in basic services such as healthcare.

This reproductive health clinic in the capital of Averyal District in central South Sudan serves the community, mainly people displaced by civil war and floods. Women who used to give birth at home now come here to give birth. Women who have been abused also come here for help.

According to the World Health Organization, in 2019 the maternal mortality rate in South Sudan was 789 deaths per 100,000 newborns. That’s more than double that of more developed neighboring Kenya, according to the United Nations, while the U.S. rate was 23 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At least 250 women give birth at the Minkaman clinic every month, said Theresa Achuay, head of IMA World Health, which runs the facility. She said she knows of only three women who have died while giving birth in the community, all outside the clinic.

Now, she said, hundreds of women could be in danger. “Our goal, our mission is to reduce the level of maternal mortality. Every woman should give birth safely. If the facility closes, there will be many deaths in the community,” she told The Associated Press during a visit in mid-October.

The clinic was founded in 2014, a year after the start of the civil war in South Sudan. Housed in tents as a temporary way to serve people displaced by the fighting, it remains makeshift but operates 24 hours a day.

It’s a hub of activity in Minkaman, a community on one of South Sudan’s muddy main thoroughfares without reliable electricity or running water. The military is present to respond to outbreaks of violence. Many women support their families by collecting firewood to sell in the nearby forest or working in modest local hotels.

Several women expressed concern about the clinic’s imminent closure.

“It will be worse for us because it helped us,” said Akwani Ball, who gave birth to her three children there. She looked miserable as she waited for the midwife to examine her baby.

Andrew Quall, clinical officer, said the facility sees an average of 70 to 80 patients a day. They often receive 20 patients per day, which is twice the number of beds.

Some women need to be treated on the ground.

Kuol said the clinic is facing shortages of drugs, including anti-malaria drugs, post-rape drugs, antenatal drugs and others, again due to declining donor support.

The nearest hospital is in the town of Bor in the neighboring state of Jonglei, where the clinic refers more complex cases. Getting there is also difficult. If there is no bridge between the states, it can take an hour to cross the Nile by boat.

As with most of South Sudan, travel is difficult. And the current circumstances mean that few people here can easily relocate for health care or anything else.

“They (displaced people) are not going anywhere because there is still danger and also the flood,” said James Manyiel Agup, director of public health in Averial District in Lakes State. He urged UN partners to continue supporting the facility to save lives.


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