Written by Claire Reading:
Claire is a Midwife currently working as a Sexual and Reproductive Health Advisor for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Belgium. She has also worked with UK-Med for the past four years on training, technical development and leading on the South Sudan Emergency Obstetric and Reproductive Health training.
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 health care 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 and be at the centre of decision making, 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 an ‘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 we provided in 2019 were focused not just on life-saving skills for women giving birth to ensure babies were healthy, 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 further increases due to a breakdown in referral systems for complications to higher level care due to the lockdown, 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 ensure family planning and safe abortion care are continued. They 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 health care workers’ education and skills means we can ensure women and babies receive quality, evidence-based, respectful care and ensure all survivors of violence can access care and 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 so our work can have bigger reach and impact.
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.