Monday, February 28, 2011

Polio in South Sudan

     Polio is an infectious disease that is transmitted when one person ingests viral particles from the feces of another person.  This can happen when drinking water is contaminated, or when flies that have lit on feces then land on food that is subsequently consumed. In most people polio infections cause no symptoms, but if the virus enters the blood stream a variety of symptoms can result. If it enters the central nervous system, paralysis can occur. About 1 in 200 polio cases results in permanent paralysis and of those, 5 to 10 percent result in death.

     No new cases of polio were seen in Sudan from 2004 until 2008, and the country was considered polio-free. Unfortunately in 2008, an outbreak resulted in 27 cases of the disease. Refugees returning from other countries were probably responsible for re-introducing the disease to Sudan. After the polio virus re-emerged, UNICEF and WHO initiated a program to vaccinate nine million Sudanese children. Along with the polio vaccine, Vitamin A is administered, which helps to strengthen their immunity against all diseases.

     In 2009, 45 new cases of polio were registered – 40 of them in South Sudan.

     In southern Sudan, it is very difficult to reach many of the children living in remote areas – less than 50 km of paved road surface exist in the whole region. In addition, it is hard to keep track of who has been vaccinated and who has not, because many people move from place to place often in order to find good grazing land for their cattle or in search of more fertile land to farm.

     One duty of the nursing interns at the Kuron Peace Village Clinic is to walk up to remote Toposa villages in the hills surrounding Kuron, bringing polio vaccinations to administer to the children who live there. Some of the interns can be seen below, marking the fingernail of a child who has been vaccinated to distinguish him from those who have not yet received the vaccine.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Holy Trinity Peace Village

     In 1997, Bishop Paride Taban started the Peace Village in Kuron, which lies close to the Ethiopian border in the extreme southeastern corner of Sudan. The name of the village, Peace, was chosen because it was his dream to promote peace among the various tribes living in the area. The tribes are descended from common ancestors, speak related languages and live by similar customs, but consider each other traditional enemies because of competition for natural resources – water and grazing land for their cattle – and because they regularly conduct raids to abduct each other’s cattle.

     The main activities of the Peace Village are a school, a farm, and cultural and sports activities for youth. There is also a clinic on the Peace Village property, which provides the only medical care for many miles around. People from different tribes participate in these activities together, providing an opportunity to build peaceful relationships and trust among one another.

     Below is a photograph of women learning to farm at the Peace Village. Traditionally people in the area lived as nomadic pastoralists, a lifestyle that limits the foods that can be cultivated to eat. By learning new farming methods, it is hoped that the people will be able to grow more to eat, will have better health as a result of a more balanced diet, and will be able to earn some money by selling surplus food – which should reduce cattle raiding activity. Some of the farming skills taught are using oxen to plow the land, improved varieties of seeds that can be used, and animal husbandry.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

South Sudanese Cities Bracing for Influx of Returnees from the North

     During the 21 year-long civil war between the north and south in Sudan, about four million people left their homes in the south and fled to northern Sudan or neighboring countries. Following the peace agreement in 2005, about half of these returned to their home territories in the south. Many of them are still living in makeshift homes fashioned out of scavenged materials and have no regular employment. Of those southerners who left the south during the fighting and did not return immediately after the peace agreement, large numbers began coming home in late 2010, shortly before the referendum vote which they expected to result in a free South Sudan. Among them are many people who may have difficulty adjusting to a new life in the south: young people who were born in the north or who lived most of their life there, and grew up speaking Arabic and living according to the customs of the north; children who are returning home without adult family members accompanying them; and elderly and disabled people who have special needs.

     Many of these people had been living in Khartoum for many years and are used to urban life, and so are choosing to settle in cities when they return to the south. Southern Sudanese cities are preparing for a massive influx of people: Rumbek, for example, which has a population of around 100,000 people, is expecting 30,000 new arrivals.

     Such a huge increase in population so suddenly is expected to put a lot of strain on southern cities, which already have very weak infrastructures. The UNHCR is working to provide some support to both the returnees and the communities that are receiving them. Southern cities are also doing what they can to prepare to receive them – we were awakened early in the morning by the shouting of hundreds of new police recruits as they participated in a hasty training course across the road from our compound in Rumbek, for example – but there is still concern about problems that so many new inhabitants may create.

     The photo below shows a family returning home via a main road in Rumbek – however these people are probably returning home from the market, not from Khartoum.