By Ngor Arol Garang
September 24 (JUBA) - The government of newly-independent South Sudan has appealed for international assistance to help address some of the challenges confronting provision of basic health services.
- Dr. Michael Milli Hussein, South Sudan minister of health - (photo Lomyat)
Building a health care system is seen by the United Nations as one of the priorities that the newly independent state should undertake. Health experts consider that South Sudan needs at this stage three basic things: education, better nutrition, and simple drugs. They also call for a special attention to women and children health.
Speaking at the United Nations headquarters in New York, South Sudan’s Minister of Health, Dr. Michael Milli Hussein, during a meeting with Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, the Executive Director of the United Nation’s Population Fund (UNFPA), said the horrific and alarming maternal and child health indicators are among the worst of all challenges that South Sudan is facing.
"I take this opportunity to appeal to the International Community, related United Nations’ Agencies, donors, development partners, INGOS, philanthropic organisations and individuals to support us in our endeavour to promote the health of the people of the Republic of South Sudan and make it a better and safe place to live”, the minister said in a statement seen by Sudan Tribune on Saturday.
Hussein attributed the lack of health facilities to civil war, which raged almost continuously from 1955 until the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005. An estimated two million died and four million were displaced in the most recent war which began in 1983. Due to conflict and neglect the infrastructure of the region had never developed.
The health minister, who is part of a delegation accompanying the President of the Republic of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, on his first post-independence visit to the UN said the people of South Sudan had been deliberately denied access to basic services for decades. He gave the example that it is one of the worst places in the world to be a pregnant women as there is a very low chance of surviving pregnancy.
“It is equally unlikely for many children to see their 5th birthday because of high maternal mortality rate. 2054/100000 life births and infant mortality is 105/1000 life births per year. Vaccination is at its lowest. Percentage of women attending up to 4 antenatal visits is only 10%,” the statement says.
“Proportion of deliveries attended by skilled birth attendants is 14% and that Family planning is unheard of by the majority of women in the country."
“Incredibly, there are only eight (8) obstetricians and ten (10) registered midwives for a population of about 10 million. The few health facilities which were there got destroyed as part of the war strategy during the liberation struggle," the statement adds.
Hussein outlined plans and the mission of the Ministry of Health to improve life expectancy; through increasing accessibility to essential health services for all which could be achieved by a comprehensive, universal and integrated quality health care programme.
South Sudan has unequivocally committed itself to reducing high maternal and infant mortality rates and improve the general health status of the entire population. However, there, are many challenges that hinder the delivery of health services, said minister Hussein.
He said some of the challenges include but are not limited to insufficient human resource in both numbers and skills. Low institutional capacity, inadequate funds as only 4.2 percent of the government’s budget goes on health. However the government has committed itself to gradual increase this to 15 percent by 2015.
Hussein identified poor infrastructure as one of the contributing factors to the rising mortality rate and inadequate funding due to competing priorities, e.g. education, food, water and sanitation as of the main challenges facing his ministry.
“These challenges, he said, are compounded and aggravated by the frequent and massive population displacement such as that of the people of Abyei and the southwards influx of refugees from the Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile regions of the North Sudan. The international community and the governments need to support South Sudan to face the looming crisis which is likely to impact negatively on health service delivery in the states bordering North Sudan”.
Minister Hussein further reiterated the commitment of the South Sudan government to adopt policies and strategies aimed at delivering health care services with especial focus on maternal and child health as alternative to addressing some of the challenges.