Resilient despite the odds: the people of South Sudan
Mother of five Regina Mateo shows us her home in Wau, South Sudan—a temporary shelter at the protection of civilians (POC) refugee site. She brought her family here to seek refuge from violence and instability in her village. However, Ms Mateo and her family are eager to return home as soon as it is safe to leave.
Everyone wants a safe place to call home. But, with conflict and violence ongoing throughout much of the country, that is too much to ask for many in South Sudan at the moment. The Wau POC holds a population of 20 880 people, but there are many other sites offering refuge. In Juba, the POC holds 39 405, in Bentiu 116 725, in Malakal 24 417 and in Bor 2296. Many people leave the POCs during the day to work but return at night from fear of violence at the hands of armed groups.
During his recent visit to Wau, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé was welcomed by a network of women and girls living with HIV and representatives of service providers from the United Nations family and local government. He said, “With the collapse of health infrastructure and upheaval of entire communities in conflict zones, continuity of treatment and care has become difficult in the extreme. But the people of South Sudan are resilient. And this brings us hope.”
Mr Sidibé visited the Wau POC to better understand the living conditions of people who have been displaced as well as the services available to them. Living conditions are difficult, with limited basic services. Everyone is desperate for peace so that they can return home.
Despite these challenging circumstances, the United Nations family is working together to deliver basic services. A highlight is the delivery and stabilization units in health facilities supported by the International Organization for Migration and the United Nations Population Fund that serve both the people who have been displaced and the host community and which integrate HIV services as part of broader primary health-care services.
Survivors of gender-based violence are also able to access psychosocial support and clinical management of rape services. These services are available in part thanks to UNAIDS resources complementing resources from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Mr Sidibé met with the Governor of Wau, Angelo Taban, and, together with the State Minister of Health, they visited the Wau Teaching Hospital, where they met peer mentor mothers who are living with HIV but who have given birth to HIV-negative babies. The health personnel are doing tremendous work despite the tough working conditions.
At the Juba Teaching Hospital, the South Sudan Network of People Living with HIV described the critical challenges many people are facing. “Many people living with HIV are lost to follow-up, due to the current crisis. Many of them are in the South Sudan bush, many others are on the move to neighbouring countries without medication. Those in towns are dying in silence due to poverty.” But hope is alive. A whole new generation of midwives are being trained, making real the right to health and non-discrimination in health facilities.
Despite all the challenges, from conflict to a collapsing health infrastructure, insufficient funds and unmet basic needs, the people of South Sudan are resilient.