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South Sudan: health services struggle to meet needs

Red Cross medical staff are now working around the clock to treat the injured.

Tuesday September 9, 2014

Local nurses and their ICRC counterpart attend to a child in Kodok, South Sudan. Photo: ICRC

Facing massive displacement that has resulted from the fighting, health services in South Sudan are working under enormous pressure. Since the outbreak of violence in December, the ICRC has worked together with the South Sudan Red Cross to save lives and perform more than 2,600 operations.

"Recent fighting in South Sudan has resulted in large numbers of people being wounded," said Franz Rauchenstein, head of the 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 programme coordinator 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 ICRC has been sending in specialized medical personnel to perform life-saving operations. Four surgical teams, each consisting of an anaesthetist and three 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.

In parallel with these efforts, South Sudan Red Cross volunteers have delivered medical supplies, dressed wounds, served as interpreters for the surgical teams, moved patients and performed many other essential tasks relating to patient care.

Because well-equipped medical facilities are either unavailable or damaged, ICRC surgical teams are working in basic care facilities or 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."


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