Huge Needs, 40 Years in Service Provision, MSF Trudges On

MSF Staffs providing health services to community members

By Okech Francis             

In 1983, a group of men and women working with Médecins Sans Frontières arrived in Southern Sudan in an urgency to meet the needs of refugees and host communities affected by conflict.

Neighboring Uganda was undergoing a civil war and by the early 1980s, there were 93,000 Ugandan refugees in Southern Sudan. MSF’s first stop was in Yei of Central Equatoria, providing medical assistance to those refugees as well as the host communities.

Now 40 years later, the medical charity scaled operations across independent South Sudan and acknowledges the needs remain immensely huge in one of its biggest global medical operations.

“Even if South Sudan is one of our biggest medical operations, the needs are still rising every day,” the charity’s Head of Mission, Mohammed Ibrahim said at an event in Juba to mark 4 decades of service last week.

“For us, one lesson learnt is that there is the need for a more sustainable solution in health provision,” Ibrahim said.

MSF is currently offering medical services through 13 regular projects in eight of the ten States and two administrative areas in South Sudan.

Health care provision remains extremely challenging in South Sudan after decades of conflict and underinvestment, and a severe shortage of health infrastructure and qualified medical professionals.

South Sudan gained independence in 2011, after 22 years of civil war in Southern Sudan.

Conflict broke out again in 2013, resulting in another civil war that killed tens of thousands of people and forced mass displacements.

MSF Staffs providing health services to community members

The crisis muted service provisions including in health leading to daunting tasks, amidst a spread of resources for urgent needs globally including in Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine. As such, the country has continued to suffer from recurrent conflicts as well as concurrent emergencies such as food insecurity, disease outbreaks, and severe floods.

The government, a key stakeholder has however embraced MSF as a very vital partner in providing health services ‘without compromise.’

“MSF has distinguished itself through neutrality and super independence,” the Minister of Health, Yolanda Awel Deng Juach said at the same event last week.

“MSF work in South Sudan has been truly informative, providing health services to millions of people treating ranges of diseases,” she said.

“You serve people equally regardless of who they are and where they come from.”

Humanitarian workers including MSF staffs have met challenges in provision of services in the country, and the government acknowledged those difficult situations.

“We appreciate you were so neutral, always sticking to your work as humanitarians,” the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ramadan Mohamed Abdallah Goc said.

“We regret the lives you lost or any problems, yet you have been working to help our people,” Goc said.

“We hope that the next 40 years in South Sudan will be peaceful, and you will not get all the challenges you have gone through.”

By 2005, the civil war ended, and the country began the long process of rebuilding, but the years of conflict had left South Sudan with a shattered healthcare system and a population in dire need of medical assistance.

MSF came in, working to rebuild hospitals and clinics, train more health workers, and provide essential medical care to communities across the country.

It currently has over 3,000 staff members working in 13 projects across the country providing a wide range of medical services, including surgical care, maternal and child health, nutrition, and the treatment of infectious diseases.

The organization also works to train local health workers and to support the South Sudanese Ministry of Health in its efforts to improve the country’s healthcare system.

MSF is on the forefront responding to health humanitarian crises that befall South Sudan, including outbreaks of disease, malnutrition, and violence.

COVID-19, Cholera, Measles, Kala Zar, Malaria, among others have been responded to and MSF said it continues to work to prevent future outbreaks and conflicts.

They set up makeshift clinics in refugee camps and war-torn villages, and they treat patients suffering from a wide range of injuries and illnesses.

With conflict erupting in Sudan last April, MSF were again called to increase service provision, beginning with emergency response to medical and humanitarian needs in Renk, Bulukat, Aweil and other areas following arrival of hundreds of thousands of returnees and refugees.

The charity remains up to the tasks, to dig in as far as they can to ensure people get the services they need, Head of Mission, Ibrahim said.

“What is most important is that we need more resources, coordination with stakeholders to ensure we overcome the health needs,” he said.

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