South Sudan: Reducing Preventable Maternal and Child Deaths in Lakes State of South Sudan

On a cold Tuesday night, at about 12:00 am, in Malek village, Ms Rebecca Akeer, 26 years old gave birth to a bouncing baby boy in her house in the absence of a skilled birth attendant in February 2020. Malek is located about 41 km north from Rumbek, the state capital in Lakes State.

It happened hours after a nearby Malek Primary Health Care Unit (PHCU) was closed following inter-communal fight which left medical supplies destroyed and health workers were forced to leave their homes due to ensuing conflict.

"Same night I gave birth to my baby boy, the whole village was deserted, my co-wife and I left alone. We had no food, no water, and we slept outside and exposed to cold weather that adversely affected "RIEL De GUOP DIE" known locally as my immunity," Ms Akeer narrated.

"My little boy is now named 'Makaat' - literally meaning born while fleeing. His other name is 'Malek' in reference to the village he was born in," Akeer explained with a broad smile on her face.

Ending preventable maternal mortality is one of the world's most critical challenges despite significant progress over the past decade.

According to new estimates, women and newborns are most vulnerable during and immediately after childbirth. An estimated 2.8 million pregnant women and newborns die every year, or 1 every 11 seconds.

"Healthy women and children help build healthy societies. Yet, women and children remain among the most vulnerable populations in the world with millions dying from preventable causes each year", said Dr Olushayo Olu, WHO Representative for South Sudan. "Ensuring the continuity of care for mothers and newborns is vital to improve the health and well-being of women, children, and families", Dr Olu underscored.

WHO ensures women and children have access to essential health care services

Following the communal conflict in Lakes, WHO deployed Emergency Mobile Medical Team to urgently conducted needs assessment to support the affected population, including Rebecca Akeer with the much-needed healthcare services including postnatal care.

"When our team arrived, we couldn't believe it. The whole village was ransacked - Rebecca and her baby were in a terrible condition. The entire population was displaced, houses destroyed, and, above all, nobody was there to attend to her," said Stephen Chol Garang, WHO State Coordinator in Lakes State. "We provided her with the necessary health care services."

Since the conflict broke out in January 2020, Malek has become one of the most inaccessible areas in Lakes State due to fear of attack, leaving communities vulnerable to diseases due to limited access to healthcare services.

With her charming little boy now turning one month old, Akeer, has now relocated to Rumbek Town. Her bitter experience reflects the experience of several other mothers in her community.

Since 2017, WHO with support from the South Sudan Humanitarian Fund (SSHF), deployed emergency mobile medical teams to reach people cut off from health care services.

The WHO-supported mobile teams deliver a comprehensive package of lifesaving health care services that include vaccination, medical consultations, medicines, referrals, health promotion and treatment for chronic conditions. In addition, the teams conduct water quality monitoring and training of frontline health care workers.

Between January and April 2020, the WHO has scaled up deployment of the mobile medical teams to many areas across the country, including Morobo and Kajo-Keji counties in Central Equatoria, Greater Jonglei, and some parts of Upper Nile and Pibor Administrative Area, to support the communities with much needed health care services.

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