Aid workers in South Sudan: “Who will treat us when you leave?”

By Loice Mukabane, Health and Nutrition Manager, CARE South Sudan

“We pray to God to have peace. We don’t want the humanitarian workers, who have come to help us to run away because of the war,” says Angelina who recently came for a prenatal visit to one of our CARE health facilities in South Sudan. “If we see them leave, we know the situation is really bad. When they are here with us, it is a form of security. Who will treat us when they are gone?”

It is a question I cannot answer. When fighting erupts as it did last week here in South Sudan, my colleagues and I are all afraid that the health facilities that NGOs such as CARE have worked so hard to equip will be damaged or destroyed. This will mean that health workers may be forced to return home and leave already vulnerable communities without health and other services.

South Sudan, the newest country in the world, gained its independence in 2011. Only two years later, the country descended into civil war. Challenges that the young country already faced, such as lack of basic health care services, disease outbreaks, and high rates of chronic malnutrition were made worse by the conflict. Qualified health workers fled the country and health infrastructure and supplies were destroyed.

On top of the conflict, many farmers saw a poor harvest due to the lack of rain last year. Alarm bells are sounding loudly that millions of people have nothing to eat. South Sudan is on the brink of collapse and starvation.

Pregnant women like Angelina are particularly at risk when the time comes for them to give birth. Sometimes we encounter very difficult deliveries in the health centre and have to refer these mothers for a caesarean section to a health facility, which is a three hour drive away on a bumpy road. Whenever violence breaks out, like it did last week, patients are afraid to go to another hospital far away from their families and community.

Yet aid workers continue our work.

The future is bleak for South Sudan. Many lives will be lost because of the fighting, but also because of disease and hunger. Health workers will eventually go back to their homes, a reality that comes sooner when fighting erupts. Even South Sudanese health workers live in either neighbouring Kenya or Uganda, where it is safer for their families. Crops will die because there will be no one to harvest them, leaving more people hungry and without an income. The few schools that had reopened will go back to being empty.

The only way forward for South Sudan is an end to the civil war so that mothers like Angelina are not left behind without crucial health services and basic needs.

* Please note images are from 2014 and are examples of CARE`s work in South Sudan. They were not taken during the current crisis.

CARE is working in South Sudan to provide support to the most vulnerable women, children and men. Your donation, no matter how small, can – and will – make a difference.