South Sudan: Giving birth safely in Yirol hospital
Byy Francesca Sabatinelli - Yirol, South Sudan
About one hundred kilometres separate Rumbek from Yirol, in South Sudan's Lakes State, but it can take up to four hours to get there by car, and that is when there is no rain or herds of cows make everything more complicated.
In this strip of red-coloured land in the Yirol area sits the Primary Health Care Center (PHCC) of Aluakluak, a level II health unit. This is one of the six centers in the Governorate of Yirol supported by the missionary doctors of CUAMM for Africa, one of the major Italian non-governmental health organizations promoting healthcare for Africans.
"We follow up with pregnant women," explains the obstetrician Stephen Obulejo. "We assist them in childbirth and post-birth; we offer medical care to children under the age of five, and adults, and an obstetric emergency service."
Over 25,000 people, who otherwise wouldn’t have any health care at all, refer to this unit, and are sent to the hospital in Yirol in the most serious cases.
Dealing with health challenges
The government hospital, which covers three counties, caters to some 300,000 people. It was in Yirol that CUAMM began its activity in South Sudan in 2006 and, in 2008, it renovated and inaugurated the hospital, which today represents one of the most important health facilities in South Sudan.
It is all about giving birth safely. The coordinator, Dr Paul Lubega, recounts the progress made so far, serving a growing and largely isolated population.
One of the most important challenges, he explains, is finding qualified health personnel to deal with the the most common diseases in the region: malaria, which is endemic, respiratory infections, and HIV.
In this remote area, where healthcare is extremely poor, patients who know about the healthcare facility often arrive when their illness is at an advanced stage, which can become very serious for children under the age of five. Many of them are severely malnourished, and are often hospitalized in extreme conditions.
The importance of tradition
In this hospital, which offers the local population vaccinations, pre-natal visits, and nutrition screening, a fundamental milestone has been reached: that of responding to obstetric emergencies.
CUAMM has launched an advanced project, both in terms of human resources and infrastructures, providing support to maternity, in the form of prenatal care, childbirth, and subsequent monitoring of mothers and babies.
The project now also includes an ambulance service for pregnant mothers who can call directly if they are in danger.
This represents an important challenge for CUAMM and the hospital, which has involved a fundamental figure for the local community, that of traditional midwives, who enjoy the unconditional trust of pregnant women and their families for having given birth to entire generations of children.
Traditional midwives have been present in the hospital since 2014 to welcome and encourage future mothers and their loved ones who feel they are in a familiar and safe environment, where they are not afraid to return in the future, challenging ancestral beliefs.