At 36, Deborah Nyanduk is four months into her ninth pregnancy, and she is lucky to be alive. Like most mothers in South Sudan, she knows what it's like to go through pregnancy, delivery and recovery without ever being examined by a medical professional. There are no prenatal vitamins or blood pressure checks; no trained doctors to manage complicated deliveries or drugs to stop excessive bleeding.
In South Sudan, more women give birth in informal settings — like the dirt floor of a thatched hut, for example — than nearly anywhere else on earth. In fact, there is only one doctor for every 65,000 people in this country beleaguered by war and poverty. Not surprisingly, the number of women who die as a result of pregnancy or childbirth is staggering.
This lack of medical care keeps generation after generation in poverty. When mothers die, their young children's chances of survival drop dramatically. Left untreated, diseases like pneumonia, diarrhea, malaria and HIV take lives in large numbers. Children without adequate nutrition before age 6 risk life-long consequences, such as stunting and poor brain development — leading to difficulties in learning and barriers to generating income.
Clearly, basic health care needs to be a priority for the millions of families living in South Sudan. Part of the problem is that at any given time, so much of South Sudan's population is forced to move, whether by violence, poverty or a changing climate.