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Back in Southern Sudan

Southern Sudan was my home for 4 years from 2005 to 2008. Since returning to the UK in January 2009, I hadn’t returned to the land which I had grown to love. So, it was with excitement and slight apprehension that I flew back into Juba International Airport to visit Save the Children’s health programme.

Following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, there have been dramatic changes in Southern Sudan — politicaly, economically and socially. And the look of the place (particularly in Juba) used to change by the week. Returning to Juba, the pace of change has naturally slowed, but there has certainly been a proliferation of tarmac and variety of restaurants for the international community in Juba town.

One of the things that I continue to hope for is to see these major changes having a significant impact on the access to basic health services for people living in rural communities who make up the majority of the population. It is thought that less than 25% of people have access to health services in Southern Sudan – something which most people had assumed they would have following the signing of the CPA.

So, why is it that in many areas of Southern Sudan, there is still no access to basic services? Part of the reason is geographical. Southern Sudan is a vast country, but sparsely populated in many areas, making it difficult to provide health services to the most rural areas.

Another reason is that Southern Sudan is still suffering from the impact of almost half a century of conflict which prevented the working population from benefiting from an education, which has decimated the skilled workforce. Although it’s still a fledgling government, it has not acheived everything that we were hoping for in the early years, partly due to the immensity of the task without a sufficient number of exceptional individuals, and partly due to the internal challenges of politics and corruption. Part of the reason is due to the international community not making the maximum use of the funding coming into Southern Sudan, with millions going into large funding schemes such as the Multi Donor Trust Fund without seeing the outputs that would be expected from the level of funding.

So where do we go from here? While I was visiting, I was involved in planning the health strategy with Save the Children’s health team. NGOs such as us are still providing the vast majority of health services in Southern Sudan. We need to continue to make the most efficient use of the resources available in providing health services, while working closely with and supporting the Ministry of Health in the management of these services.

We also need to be able to prepare for and try to reduce the impact of challenges that Southern Sudan faces, such as the regular disease outbreaks and floods, as well as the potential increase in local conflict as we come closer to the referendum in 2011.

We need to redouble our efforts to achieve the aim of access to free health services for all people in Southern Sudan.

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