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South Sudan: Children need healthcare

“He’s waking up.” Rebekka, one of our nurses, beams at me, as she removes her cap and fans herself with it.

We’re standing in our Cholera Treatment Centre, in the middle of a camp for displaced people in Mingkamen, South Sudan. Forty-five minutes earlier, a man rushed into the tent with his son, Daniel* – who was having a seizure in his arms.

Seeing the little boy convulse was one of the most frightening things I’ve ever witnessed. I felt helpless, and could only imagine what his father was going through.

Life-saving care

I watched as Rebekka, with support from a local nurse, James, quickly ascertained that, although 3 year-old Daniel did not have symptoms of cholera, he could die if they didn’t act fast.

Daniel was given emergency drugs and after 45 minutes the seizures slowly wore off. An hour later he started to wake up.

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Making a diagnosis

“We suspected he had malaria or meningitis as he didn’t have a history correlating with cholera,” Rebekka later explains.

“He started being unwell in the morning with a high temperature – he was very, very hot as well. We tried to get his temperature down and gave him a lot of emergency drugs to stabilise him.

“We are a cholera treatment centre; we are not a functioning primary health care centre so we don’t have a lot of additional medicines. Luckily, we had some essential drugs and emergency drugs in our stock when Daniel came in,” Rebekka says.

Daniel’s father asked us to take this picture: “Take our photo. I want to help so you can stop more fathers’ children from dying.”

Why South Sudan?

We deploy our Emergency Health Unit with utmost speed to regions where children can’t access the healthcare they need.

Our Cholera Treatment Centre is an orderly series of large tents in the middle of Mingkaman Camp, which is currently home to about 50,000 people. Many families in the camps fled from the nearby town of Bor when fighting broke out in 2013. To this day, Bor remains a place of fluctuating conflict.

We support children in South Sudan with healthcare, nutrition, water and sanitation.

Our education and child protection programmes give them a sense of normalcy and let them be children as the fighting around them continues.

“Stop more fathers’ children dying”

The next day, I quickly popped in to the treatment centre to visit Daniel and his dad before my flight back to Juba. Daniel was sitting up as his father fed him porridge.

“Please,” Daniel’s father said to me, “take our photo. I want to help so you can stop more fathers’ children from dying.”

Moments before Daniel and his father arrived at the treatment centre, I had been clearing images from my memory card and looking at photos of my own nephew, who is also three years old.

Later the day, back at the compound, I thought about how lucky he is – how lucky we all are – to have been born in a stable country where healthcare is widely available.

Innocent children, caught in conflict

Daniel does not know the conflict that surrounds him; his entire three years have been spent living in a camp.

Yet like too many South Sudanese children, his life – his access to crucial healthcare, education and a safe and happy upbringing – is shaped by an unspeakable brutality that has nothing to do with him.

If we hadn’t been on the ground responding to the cholera outbreak, it’s unlikely Daniel would be alive today. But the fighting restricts by where we can work, and the needs of children and families continue to grow.

If nothing is done to bring peace to South Sudan right now, thousands more children will be in danger.

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