Bridging the gap in maternal health care

maternal health
Nurse / midwife specialist Odukis in the maternal health clinic, Bentiu State Hospital. © UNDP / Dianne Janes

A few months ago, the Bentiu Hospital was full to the brim with expectant mothers, but had few fully trained nurses and midwives to assist with the births.  The Ministry of Health in Unity State knew it had to do something to address the shocking rate of maternal mortality it was witnessing.  South Sudan as a nation experiences one of the worst maternal mortality rates in the world, and its effects are devastating. 

Highlights

  • Odukis is tackling the health crisis affecting women and children through education and treatment programs.
  • Delivery of malnutrition, HIV/AIDS and other services is improving the health outcomes for women.
  • The support of specialists from neighbouring countries is helping South Sudan to rebuild its health system.

The Health Ministry reached out and received assistance from a joint initiative involving the South Sudan Government, UNDP and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).  Through the IGAD Regional Initiative on Capacity Enhancement, a specialist Senior Nursing Officer, Omongor Silvanus Odukis, was brought in from Kenya to help the Bentiu hospital.   Simon Peter Wal, the Acting Director General at the State Ministry of Health, cannot believe his luck. “Odukis is a combination of everything: nurse, midwife, teacher,” he says.  “We have to make use of this guy!”

Odukis is a quietly spoken gentleman who has been practicing nursing for over thirty years.  He is a qualified midwife and specializes in maternal care.  On his arrival in Bentiu, he observed that many of the babies being born at the hospital were suffering from malnutrition, so he began a malnutrition programme for babies to supplement their feeding.  Many of the expectant mothers were presenting with anaemia and malaria, and require iron tablets and specialized malaria treatment. 

Odukis also helps to run the HIV/AIDS clinic at the hospital which aims to prevent mother-to-child transmission, and assists the local midwives with births in the busy hospital.  “About one hundred women per month give birth here,” said Odukis. “Around twenty percent of those births are difficult.  The majority of women have anemia, so they lose a lot of blood.” 

Odukis decided to apply for the position after hearing about the shortage of nurses and midwives in South Sudan.  “It is enriching me in terms of knowledge,” he says.   Odukis’ many years of experience have earned him respect as a leader and teacher at the hospital, where the nurses and midwives have often missed out on vital training.  “I’m trying to teach the nurses, starting with the matron,” he says.  “We are trying to bridge the gaps with on-the-job training.”

He is also actively involved in strengthening the health systems at the hospital.  “Odukis is very experienced in hospital organization, even in pediatrics and medicine,” says the hospital’s Medical Director, Dr. Peter Gatkouth.  “He is helping with our planning in the Ministry of Health.”

Odukis is one of many Civil Service Support Officers being seconded from IGAD countries to strengthen the capacity of the South Sudanese government in a range of sectors.  UNDP is facilitating the IGAD Initiative, which is led by the Ministry of Labour, Public Service and Human Resources Development, in partnership with the governments of Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.