By DAGI KIMANI
NAIROBI, Jan 20, 2005 (LiquidAfrica) — As southern Sudan embraces peace after decades of conflict, one of the challenges the new government faces is that of developing a working health care system.
Years of war, poverty and natural attrition have denied the region basic health care infrastructure. Southern Sudan is today perhaps one of the most neglected regions on earth, lacking a communication system and educated health personnel.
Most of the region’s war-wounded are today treated at a Red Cross emergency hospital in Lokichoggio in neighbouring Kenya.
"By 1991, health care in Sudan had all but disintegrated," says a report prepared by the US government.
"The civil war in southern Sudan destroyed virtually all medical facilities except those that the SPLA had rebuilt to treat their own wounded and the hospitals in the three major towns controlled by government forces in Malakal, Wau and Juba."
According to a report entitled Overview of the Health Situation in Sudan 2002 prepared by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), the damage caused by war has over the years been aggravated by a combination of chronic poverty and natural disasters, leading to one of the most under-developed health systems in the world.
According to the UN body, by 2002, the whole of southern Sudan had only about 1,500 hospital beds less than the capacity of Kenya’s national referral hospital, Kenyatta for the eight million people in the rebel-controlled areas.
Some estimates put the total number of doctors in the region at just over 100.
Most of southern Sudan is today served by humanitarian organisations. According to Unicef, some 66 odd agencies involved in healthcare spent a total of $55 million in the region in 2002, mostly for emergency care.
The World Health Organisation says the region’s health situation can potentially be greatly improved through community-based interventions.
Malaria is the most common illness, followed by diarrhoea infections, respiratory ailments, intestinal parasites, eye and skin diseases and sexually transmitted diseases.
The health situation is particularly compounded by the lack of sanitation and safe drinking water. Only an estimated 30 per cent of the population in the region uses water from a protected source.
Despite the bleak health outlook, southern Sudan has generally been spared the ravages of HIV/Aids.
Available data indicates that the region has a relatively low prevalence of the disease, at about 3 per cent.