During this semester, I have been working with Professor Bob Cumming at the University of Sydney on a South Sudan project. Although I knew next to nothing about South Sudan when I began this project, the country has grown near and dear to my heart. My work began with organizing a conference on 8 August that focused on maternal and child health and food security in South Sudan. It was an honor to meet and work with our keynote speakers, Professor Aggrey Abate, Vice Chancellor of the University of Juba, and Dr. Samson Baba, Director General of Community and Public Health.
After the conference, I have continued learning about South Sudan and the many challenges the country faces. Since health is my passion, let me highlight a few statistics:
- Life expectancy at birth is 53 years for men and 55 years for women.
- 1 in 10 children will die before their 5th birthday.
- There are approximately 120 physicians and 100 registered nurses to serve a population of 9 million. (An upcoming census will provide more accurate numbers.)
- Maternal mortality is the highest in the world at 2054 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births. This means that pregnancy represents a very real health threat for women.
- 25 women die each day in childbirth. For comparison, approximately 20 women die each year in childbirth in Australia.
- While family planning methods and modern contraceptives were introduced in what was then Southern Sudan in 1999, only 1.5% of women are currently using a modern contraceptive method.
The 8 August conference generated a lot of excitement and interest in further collaborations between Australia and South Sudan to support public health training in South Sudan. The discussions were scheduled to continue when Professor Cumming traveled to South Sudan in October. So after the conference, I began researching public health curricula at schools such as the University of Nairobi, University of Rwanda, and Makerere University to support the work toward establishing public health training in South Sudan.
Where do we stand now? A huge leap and a bound forward and closer to beginning public health training courses in South Sudan!
One of the challenges in establishing public health training is overcoming serious literacy challenges. On average, three of four South Sudanese citizens is illiterate (higher illiteracy rates for women than men). High rates of illiteracy are a lasting legacy from the long years of liberation wars (what many refer to as civil wars) between what is now South Sudan and Sudan. During the wars, which lasted from 1955 to 1972 and from 1983 to 2005, education simply was not available.
Therefore, the proposal that will be presented to South Sudan’s Minister of Health in December is for a certificate program in public health that will be offered at the University of Juba. Individuals with a high school degree will be eligible to apply. The University of Sydney will work with South Sudan to develop the curriculum and to provide guest lecturers. The program will be structured on a month on/month off training model for two years of study. Training will focus on maternal and child health, increased childhood immunization rate, and increased access to clean water.
In addition, South Sudan will also soon be running accelerated education programs for adults who did not have the opportunity to go to school during the wars. It will allow these adults to gain high school certification in a shorter period of time, with the opportunity to continue on in their education in programs such as the public health certificate. In addition, South Sudanese students will now be eligible for Master’s level scholarships to study in Australia through AusAID.
Training programs may begin as early as 2015. This is a promising step toward building South Sudan’s capacity to meet the broad health needs of its citizens. It has been exciting to be part of this project and to learn how to develop and implement a system-building project.