Averting Neonatal Deaths in South Sudan

Averting Neonatal Deaths in South Sudan

Alice Gune with her son who was treated successfully for neonatal sepsis at the SHTP II-supported Kuda PHCC in South Sudan. Credit: MSH.

Shortly after delivering her baby boy at home, Alice Gune grew nervous for his health. Her baby had a high fever and was obviously uncomfortable and unhappy.

She took him to see Rose Kujang, the Maternal and Child Health Worker, during a community outreach program orchestrated by Kuda Primary Health Care Center (PHCC). Rose examined Alice’s baby and, recognizing the danger signs he presented, immediately referred her to Kuda PHCC for further diagnosing and treatment.

When Alice arrived, the staff at the facility examined her son and informed her that her baby was suffering from neonatal sepsis and required immediate treatment. Neonatal sepsis is caused by bacteria which infects the blood stream of a child in their first 90 days of life. The infection is often attributed to lack of proper vaccinations during pregnancy or contamination during the delivery or post-delivery period due to unsanitary birthing conditions and improperly sterilized equipment and hands.

The infection is one of the leading causes of mortality in newborns, responsible for over one million deaths a year, according to the World Health Organization. Most babies who receive simple antibiotics are cured of the disease, however millions across the world do not have access to these drugs: facilities are hours walking distance away; drugs are often out of stock; and many health workers are unqualified to recognize and diagnose the disease.

In May 2010, Kuda PHCC was managed by just one Community Health Worker who had only nine months of training -- and few clinical skills to handle maternal and neonatal services. The facility then joined the second phase of the USAID-funded Sudan Health Transformation Project (SHTP II), led by Management Sciences for Health.

SHTP II recognized the community's great need for enhanced technical abilities in maternal and child health services and immediately hired both Rose Kujang as the Maternal and Child Health Worker as well as a midwife for the facility.

Thanks to the training and support from SHTP II, Rose was able to recognize the danger signs Alice’s son presented at the community outreach event and refer Alice to Kuda PHCC. The child received the antibiotics necessary to save his life, and staff provided Alice with education as to how her baby may have received the infection, as well as the importance of ante- and postnatal care visits at the facilities.

When she and her baby were discharged from the facility, Alice thanked Rose and said she hopes to spread the health education she received from the facility staff to other women. Alice wants to encourage other mothers to come to health facilities when delivering their babies to prevent serious infections like her son’s.

Erin Polich is a communications consultant with the SHTP II project and is working in South Sudan. Erin is a graduate of Boston University’s School of Public Health.