Martha’s Choice

Grappling with his breath on the hospital bed, Martha's tiny baby, one month old, is very sick. This is his second day at the Mankein Primary Health Care Centre.

His mother, Martha, isn’t just worried about him. She worries about the three other children she has left at home…

Martha lives in a village called Riak, a three-hour walk from the health centre in Mankein.

Riak once had a small health facility complete with medical equipment and a pharmacy, but that was before the crisis that plunged South Sudan into chaos in December 2013.

The health system in South Sudan is one of the most underdeveloped. Mothers living there face one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Since the recent conflict, there are even fewer facilites and less paved roads which makes accessibility a big issue.

The long distances to health facilities have discouraged many women like Martha from accessing health services, leaving them to give birth at home without the services of a trained midwife.

There is also little by way of medical equipment, so when Martha’s baby son developed a chest infection, the closest health facility able to help her was hours away in Mankein.

“I walked for hours so that my child will be examined and get treatment,” said Martha. “I am very relieved that we are now admitted and my baby is being cared for.’’

Martha became a single mother, following the death of her husband in 2014. At the time, Martha was already pregnant with her fourth child. To talk about the last two years of her life and the daily struggles to raise her children is painful and Martha is hesitant to continue.

The three cows her husband left her provide milk for her children and her elderly mother-in-law, but it’s not enough.

“Now I collect water lilies from the swamps for my family to eat. We don’t have food, this is all we have,” she says. “This year I planted some maize, but there was no rain so nothing grew.’’

With a tiny baby in need of medical care, Martha was forced to choose: to remain at home and continue to provide food for three of her children and risk the health of the fourth, or make the long journey by foot to Mankein to ensure her baby could receive appropriate medical care and leave her young family behind to fend for themselves.

“Giving birth at the health facility is good, I sometimes wonder if my child would be healthier if I had given birth here,” she concludes.

Can you imagine having to make such a choice? To have to choose between the health of your newborn child or your health and the survival of your other children? No mother should ever have to make that decision. And to think that Martha is considered lucky! Sometimes the trip alone is too difficult for a woman who is pregnant or experiencing complications. Or is too strenuous for a young baby who has suddenly become ill. Sadly, the statistics show that not all women and children survive hours long trips to health centres for help. With your help we can make sure women like Martha and her children get the care they need.

You can be the difference in the life of a woman just like Martha or a child just like hers.