It’s no secret that even during a global pandemic women still require sexual and reproductive healthcare services and support. They do not stop conceiving or needing Pre-natal care. They do not stop giving birth or becoming mothers. Maternal health is a vital priority and concern for every country. Sadly, the sudden onset of COVID 19 has stalled advancements in this key area all over the globe. Home to one of the world’s highest Neo-Natal and maternal mortality rates, South Sudan is one such country.
Written by Claire Reading:
Claire is a Midwife currently working as Sexual and Reproductive Health Advisor for Médecins Sans Frontières, Belgium. She has also worked with UK-Med for the past 4 years on training, technical development and leading on the South Sudan Emergency Obstetric and Reproductive Health training.
War & Grace:
WHO’s Health for All film festival winner 2020
Written and directed by Sonia Lowman, produced by International Medical Corps.
War & Grace highlights the maternal health crisis in South-Sudan celebrating the frontline health workers who risk their lives every day to serve communities in need. It was produced to mark 2020 the year of the nurse and midwife and was awarded first prize in the midwifery category at the festival in May.
The work that UK-Med has been doing in South-West South Sudan in the area surrounding the town of Kapoeta is focused on strengthening healthcare workers knowledge and skills around sexual and reproductive health as well as responding to survivors of sexual violence. Strong midwives and doctors were identified during October 2019 and a ‘training of trainers’ is now planned for 2021. This approach empowers the South Sudanese team to take charge of future training’s, to be at the centre of decision making and with UK-Med as a propeller and supporter, so the education and skills sessions become owned by them and for the people of South Sudan.With COVID-19, the focus has shifted towards a ‘all hands on deck’ approach to managing a pandemic. This is understandable, but we know from previous epidemics, that women and girls are affected differently to men and boys. Females are often the caregivers for children and the elderly, most healthcare workers are women, this leads to women being more exposed to the virus
Documented research tells us that women and girls are also more vulnerable to sexual violence and exploitation and that this is exacerbated during a crisis. The education sessions that we provided in 2019 were focused not just on life saving skills for women giving birth ensuring babies were health, but also responding to gender based violence and adolescent care – the latter two are key topics encompassing a large proportion of South Sudanese society today. Worryingly, right now in South Sudan we expect to see an increase in mortality around pregnancy and birth due to the virus but mainly due to a breakdown in referral systems for complications to higher level care due to the lockdowns/confinement, lack of transport and economic hardships – all these factors directly affect pregnant women’s ability to access care. In times of crisis, it’s important to recognise family planning and safe abortion care are continued. These are life-saving healthcare services.
With COVID-19, UK-Med has had to press pause on our educational support, but this work is more vital than ever. Supporting healthcare workers education and skills means that we can ensure women and babies receive quality, evidence-based respectful care and to ensure all survivors of violence can access care and be provided with life-saving, non-judgemental support, both medical and psychological not just during 2020, but in the future too. UK-Med are planning to return to South Sudan to follow up with training participants in Kapoeta, and deliver a Training of Trainers session to them, in order that our work can have bigger reach and impact.