Last December, as intense civil fighting erupted in South Sudan, I spoke with several doctors and nurses about its impact on the health of the 11 million people who call the country home. The problems accessing health care in South Sudan were already vast, and the emergence of violence would only make things worse – perhaps no more so than for expectant mothers.
I was working in New York with the communications team at Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), which provides vital care across South Sudan and nearly 70 other countries around the world. As part of my role, I debriefed MSF aid-workers like Miriam Czech, an American nurse who had just returned from a mission, and considered their experiences for sharing more widely with the media and public.
For three months, Czech had trained local nurses to provide better care for pregnant women. But the challenges were great. Czech told me about a frail 24-year-old woman who had walked three days from her village to the maternity unit in the city of Aweil. The woman was in the ninth month of her pregnancy, and her husband had to carry her part of the way because she also was suffering from terminal tuberculosis. Czech helped the woman give birth to a baby boy, fragile at only 1.2 kilograms — less than half the cutoff for low birth weight. But the mother could not endure the stress of childbirth.