South Sudan: Restoring a destroyed hospital and healthcare system

8 Apr 2015
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South Sudan

When violence started to spread in South Sudan in December 2013, Bor was one of the first towns to be hit.

During December and January the town shifted hands several times between government and opposition forces, and 70,000 civilians from Bor took refuge in camps within South Sudan or in neighbouring countries. The state hospital was ransacked and all the staff and patients fled. 

Brima Vandi is a nurse from Sierra Leone. He was part of the very first Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) team that started working in Bor state hospital in June 2014.

Restoring and expanding medical facilities in Bor

“MSF came in at the beginning of June with a team of four. We set up the project to give technical support to the Ministry of Health hospital in five key areas: paediatric, pharmacy, emergency room, waste management and immunisation.

At that time all patients were treated in the same ward; the surgical ward. The paediatric ward didn’t have any medical activity - it was not fit to use when we arrived.

We started to clean the paediatric ward, to take out all the garbage, set up beds and equipment, and we moved the children that were in the surgical ward. Then we started the activities together with the nurses that were assigned there by the Ministry of Health.

Improving vaccination programmes

Vaccinations were given under a tree in the hospital grounds three days a week only. The programme was run by a volunteer, David. He was really committed and doing his best, but he was doing it as a volunteer without benefits from the Ministry.

MSF implemented an expanded programme on immunisation (EPI) and moved the activities into the out-patient department. Now, whenever children come to the hospital they get vaccinated.

I’m pleased to see that it’s working smoothly. And I’m proud to say that David, after some training and coaching, works independently and he is now employed by the Ministry. 

Providing support and capacity building

It has not been easy to get this project going because we have a different approach than in other projects. MSF is principally here to provide technical support and capacity building, and we don’t employ our own medical staff.

This can be a challenge but you have to use your skills to inspire and motivate people, and get them to understand the strategy behind MSF’s project here. This is not easy when there are language barriers and differing levels of technical knowledge.

But we try different kinds of training, we do on-the-job training and in group sessions with the help of a translator. It’s challenging, but I like it.

Building trust with the local community

MSF also identified the emergency room (ER) as a particular area where support was needed.

For instance, we saw that the space for emergencies in the out-patient department was very small and not adequate for examination and stabilisation of patients. That’s why we have renovated a new space for the ER in another building, and we are hoping that this will also be an inspiration for the staff.

I think we can already see some of the benefits of this project. For me it’s clear when I compare the figures for admissions to the paediatric ward now and when we arrived in June. There are many more admissions now. That means the population trusts the services being given there.

Regarding the quality, we have implemented MSF guidelines and protocols and the staff as well as the hospital management are realising that it’s good and it’s working.

Further, the team in the paediatric ward is really cooperative. They see me as part of the team now. I teach them new skills by doing it myself, when they see me participating and working by their side, they understand that they need to follow my example. It’s my way of encouraging and inspiring them.

A need for education and sensitisation

Unfortunately some patients arrive late to the hospital, and in very bad condition. This is because they first go to private clinics in the market.

There they are sometimes given the wrong medication or the wrong dose, and only when the condition has deteriorated too much does the clinic send them to the state hospital. So when they come here, sometimes it is too late and there is little we can do.

This could lead people to think that the services here are not good, because some patients don’t survive. There is a need for sensitisation and education about this, because when patients arrive in good time they receive very good care here.

Vaccinations: "From under a tree to inside the hospital"

One of the moments of satisfaction for me was to practically involve myself in the movement of the immunisation programme. The MSF team and I were really working hard to get all the rubbish out, cleaning and arranging the space in the out-patient department for the vaccination activities.

It felt good that my strength could allow me to do that and I saw it as a good way of inspiring the Ministry of Health staff to join in the organisation of their hospital.

Even though it is not their actual job to do that, some of them came to realise that they should join us in cleaning up. After all, it’s their hospital, not ours. 

I felt I was doing what I came here to do – to support, to let people know what to do and then train them in giving quality medical service. The movement from under the tree to an assigned space inside the hospital was a big achievement, I think.

"Independence, not dependence"

I like the humanitarian work, and I believe in independence, not dependence. Things will not last if you are always dependent on others.

What  MSF is trying to establish here is independence, by letting people know that this is for them and they need to take ownership of it.

Gradually it will make a big difference, I really believe that. Maybe not immediately visible over a period of weeks, but in the long run it will have an impact.” 

Find out more about MSF's work in South Sudan