Stuck in vicious cycle of poverty, South Sudan locals left with no choice but to 'pack the grief and go on'

17 May 2020 - 00:00 By MATTHEW SAVIDES
Nyandar Chuong carries her seven-month-old baby and a handmade crib she brought for the baby of her daughter, who was due to give birth at the MSF primary health-care facility in Leer.
Nyandar Chuong carries her seven-month-old baby and a handmade crib she brought for the baby of her daughter, who was due to give birth at the MSF primary health-care facility in Leer.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi

The deep wailing pierces the midnight silence, echoing from the maternity tent at the Doctors Without Borders field hospital in Leer, South Sudan. A woman is in anguish; her baby was stillborn.

In the three days the Sunday Times spent in Leer, seven babies were born. Of the three babies born on one of those days, one had to be resuscitated, the mother of another suffered severe postnatal bleeding and one died.

This is the reality of South Sudan. At the height of the civil war, death was never far away, and it still isn’t now.

Midwife Elizabeth Ramlow from the US manages the maternity section — a tent with two delivery beds separated by curtains from the four-bed ward.

In March, her team conducted 779 antenatal care consultations and admitted 81 patients; there were 39 live births and one stillborn baby.

Last month they conducted 992 consultations and admitted 80 patients; there were 42 live births with one stillborn baby.

“These women come into labour having lost children,” Ramlow said, indicating some of the women in the tent.

“Other women in the room have already lost children to gunfire, to drowning in the swamps. I mean, they know, as I think our grandmothers did, that babies don’t all make it. There’s this kind of an acceptance that death’s part of life.”

In many cases, the women whose children die don’t have time to grieve.

“They really do what they have to do. The cries that go up when anyone dies here are heartbreaking. They are heartbroken, there’s no doubt about it. But they take their grief, and they pack it up and they go on with what they have to do — which is to get food, and get firewood and take care of other children in the family.”


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