South Sudan: Health services struggle to meet needs

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Health services in South Sudan are working under enormous pressure as communities become displaced as a result of the fighting.

"Recent fighting in South Sudan has resulted in large numbers of people being wounded," said Franz Rauchenstein, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delegation in the country. "ICRC medical staff have been sent to several places and are now working around the clock to treat the injured."
Since last December, health services in the country have been overstretched. "The lack of security has caused many health workers to flee. There have also been reports of health workers being attacked or killed," said Kerry Page, an ICRC health worker in South Sudan. "In addition, several care facilities have been damaged or looted, and since it's extremely difficult to bring in medical supplies to the places that need them most, the basic health needs of many people simply cannot be met."
From the very beginning of the current armed conflict, the Red Cross has been sending in specialised medical personnel to perform life-saving operations. Four surgical teams, each consisting of an anaesthetist and 3 nurses as well as a surgeon, have performed more than 2,600 surgical procedures on weapon-wounded patients in 13 health facilities across the country.
Well-equipped medical facilities are either unavailable or damaged, forcing Red Cross surgical teams to work in vacant buildings with simple rooms converted into operating theatres. "The medical teams are rapidly flown in, even to remote locations, when we have confirmed reports of large numbers of casualties," said Ms Page. "It's rather difficult, but there's no other way to provide care in most instances. The surgical programme in South Sudan is one of the largest run by the
ICRC in the world, and it is most likely the most difficult one in terms of work and living conditions. During the rainy season, the staff have an additional burden to contend with."
Displacement adds to the strain
The health-care system is having to cope not only with large numbers of casualties, but also with the displacement of the local population. Fleeing danger, many people, including women and children, travel long distances in search of the closest safe haven. Their health needs are considerable, and local services are usually not able to meet them on their own. In many places affected by violence, small towns and villages have turned into new population centres overnight.
"The pressure that this influx of people has put on already weak health-care infrastructure has been enormous," said Ms Page. "In Upper Nile state, the population in and around Kodok tripled in a matter of days. Some 100,000 civilians have taken refuge there, and because the situation remains unpredictable, they are not likely to leave soon."

You can help

If you would like to help those affected by the crisis is South Sudan, please donate to the Irish Red Cross South Sudan Appeal here.