Community health volunteers provide crucial care in South Sudan
April 7, 2013 by Terah Edun
|Volunteer community health care provider Elizabeth Abuamou takes a break for a photo in front of her home with two of her children and three young neighbors. Around her neck are counting beads, used to diagnose pneumonia in babies up to a year old. With a respiratory timer in hand, Elizabeth will count off one white bead for each breath. If she reaches the red beads in less than one minute, indicating too many breaths, she will diagnose pneumonia. Photo: Terah Edun/IRC|
On World Health Day (April 7), meet two IRC-trained volunteer health workers who are providing care for children in their own communities in South Sudan:
MALUALKON, South Sudan - Nyadeng Lual lives in northwest South Sudan, an arid area of open plains dotted with stunted trees and relieved by occasional fields of waving grass. Villages often are an hour walking distance from the nearest primary health care unit, usually run by the International Rescue Committee, but many are even more remote.
On a late night in January, a young mother came to Nyadeng’s house clutching her 18-month-old daughter. “My daughter had watery stools after eating dried fish, says Athieng Mawien. “For a young child I knew it could be very bad. I took her to Nyadeng immediately. Thanks to her treatment, my daughter is better now”
Nyadeng is a volunteer community health provider, the first line of defense to combat the high child mortality rates in local communities in South Sudan. She and her colleagues diagnose and treat pneumonia, malaria and diarrhea with the training and medicine provided by the IRC.
“Nyadeng is the children’s doctor here,” Athieng says with a smile. “I am very grateful to her.”
Every year, village elders choose neighbors like Nyadeng to receive training to treat children under five. Local mothers are encouraged to bring the children to volunteers’ homes because they will know where to go in emergencies.
“A mother carried her three-year-old son, Anei Anei, from Tokyap, a village about one hour away by foot,” remembers Nyadeng. The path from Tokyap is inaccessible by car, even in the dry season. In the rainy season, beginning in May, heavy downpours flood the land, erode the dirt paths and hide dangerous obstacles. Without volunteer community health workers, many families would have no access to basic health care.
“I am treating the children in my village and the surrounding villages because the people need someone close by who can provide treatment for their children,” says Nyadeng. “And because of my training, I was able to treat my own three-year-old daughter, Angong, after she became sick from pneumonia.”
Elizabeth Abuamou is also a volunteer community health provider. “I am a housewife with two sons and two daughters,” she explains as she sits in the hot sun beside her proud father-in-law and neighbors. “I was born here, grew up here, and married here. Because the community knows me, they trust me and expect me to treat their children.”
“What I enjoy most about this work is that I’m really saving the lives of children and I don’t have to turn anyone away,” says Elizabeth. “A woman brought her child to me and she tried to pay me five South Sudan pounds to treat the child. I told her no, the drugs are free because of the IRC. That mother is now telling other community members to come when their children are sick.”
Each case is different, Elizabeth notes. “A child might come with convulsions or he could be urinating involuntarily or vomiting and I must be aware of the warning symptoms for complications.”
But the mothers don’t delay, says Elizabeth with a laugh, appreciating the program’s success. “Sometimes they come in the morning, others come in the afternoon and even in the middle of night. They fear for their child and they know I can help.”
|Community health volunteer Nyadeng Lual with her five-year old son, Wek, and three-year-old daughter, Angong. Thanks to training she received from the IRC, Nyadeng was able to treat the little girl after she became sick from pneumonia.|
Photo: Terah Edun/IRC
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