Reducing the Maternal Mortality Rate in South Sudan

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JUBA, South Sudan — South Sudan became the 193rd nation in the United Nations and the world’s newest country upon its founding on July 14, 2011. However, in a country which was ravaged by years of civil war and genocide, there is no surprise that many are still suffering from the effects.

Poverty remains rampant in South Sudan, and the lack of money and infrastructure in the country — as well as a lack of professional midwives and doctors — have led to South Sudan having the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.

Each mother in South Sudan has a one in seven chance of dying during her lifetime. The Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) in South Sudan is 2,054 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, and this high MMR is related to South Sudan’s high child mortality rate — 25 percent of South Sudanese children die before their fifth birthday.

There are many varying causes that contribute to the high Maternal Mortality Rate in South Sudan. As of 2012, more than 90 percent of births in South Sudan happened without the help of a skilled attendant.

This is partially due to poor infrastructure and inadequate transportation in the country, which means that many mothers who live in rural areas are not able to get to health facilities and receive the treatment that they need. Also, it is customary for women in South Sudan to give birth at home, so many women hesitate to go to the hospital unless complications arise. By then, it is normally too late.

Even if they manage to make it to the hospital, women in South Sudan still are at risk. Some of the most common causes of maternal mortality are hemorrhaging (excessive bleeding), eclampsia (convulsions followed by a coma) and sepsis (infections).

Many hospitals in South Sudan do not have the blood transfusions necessary to help those who are hemorrhaging. Even though South Sudan’s first blood bank has been built, it normally contains blood from relatives and is not stocked enough to help all those who are suffering. The hospitals also desperately need basic supplies. As midwife Julia Amatoko says, “We need scissors for delivery, and browns for packing. We don’t even have cottons in the ward, gauze-we don’t have.”

Another reason why South Sudan has such a high MMR is because it does not have many trained midwives. As of 2013, there were only eight registered midwives in South Sudan — one for every 125,000 women. Midwives who have professional training can assist in complications such as hemorrhaging and obstructed labor, and they normally are able to handle situations which traditional birth attendants (TBAs) cannot.

South Sudan also has a high rate of child marriage. Half of the girls between the ages of 15 to 19 are married, and some girls get married as young as the age of 12. Child marriage contributes to soaring rates of maternal mortality because many children who become pregnant are not yet fully developed enough to safely carry the baby and give birth.

Women in South Sudan are still at risk, but progress is being made to reduce the maternal mortality rate. UNICEF discusses how it, thanks to the support of the German National committee, was able to build a maternity unit in South Sudan’s Yambio Hospital in 2012. This has allowed the hospital to accommodate more patients and has decreased the number of maternal deaths caused by pregnancy-related complications.

While programs such as this have helped, more midwives have to be trained, child marriage rates have to decrease, and more resources have to be devoted to hospitals in order to significantly decrease South Sudan’s high MMR.

Ashrita Rau

Sources: UNICEF, IRIN, International Medical Corps, VOA News, Water for South Sudan, The Borgen Project, The Huffington Post
Photo: Foodgrains Bank

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About Author

Ashrita writes for The Borgen Project from Naperville, Illinois and one of three triplets. She is currently attending Tufts University where she plans on majoring in International Relations and Peace and Justice Studies.

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