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Over the weekend, the world’s newest nation was born. South Sudan celebrated independence as Africa’s 54th nation state and the United Nations 193rd member. President Obama officially recognized the new country, saying: “After so much struggle by the people of South Sudan, the United States of America welcomes the birth of a new nation . . . Together we can ensure that today marks another step forward in Africa’s long journey toward opportunity, democracy, and justice.”
It is a promising moment in history and one that opens the door to a lot of questions. How can we work towards durable development, a sine qua non for opportunity, democracy, and justice? How can we ensure that this step forward is not accompanied by two steps backward, as we have seen so many times in Africa? How can we help the Sudanese people create the conditions they need to realize their full potential and fully participate in forging their own future? How can the community of international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which is so eager to help, become a part of the solutions, not the problems?
Alongside many other international NGOs, IntraHealth International has been working with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the Ministry of Health to strengthen the health workforce and to provide HIV counseling and testing and prevention services as well as treatment. You can view a slideshow that offers some glimpses of this work here.
My colleagues in South Sudan have witnessed first-hand how daunting it is to provide basic health care in a country where people’s most basic needs go unmet: 80% of the population still lives in thatched-roof housing; 75% of people cannot read; infrastructure such as roads, water, and electricity are scarce or non-existent. Yet, people pushed ahead, as our former project director, Carol Karutu, who spent nearly five years in South Sudan, described in a recent blog, Once You Drink from the Nile, You Will Come Back for More. Building a health system and health workforce in a country that is “starting from zero” is difficult, but it isn’t impossible. As James Aguto, a former child soldier and guerilla fighter-turned-health worker was quoted as saying in a recent New York Times article: “ ‘South Sudan started from zero. Why shouldn’t we be able to transform?’ ”
As the global community pours more financial and technical support into South Sudan’s health sector, we also need to, in my opinion, make a serious commitment to changing the way we deliver that technical assistance, or it will not succeed. This requires meaningful actions toward:
Speaking earlier this week with my colleague, Dr. Fauzia Khan, who is IntraHealth’s project director in South Sudan, I was reminded of how hopeful the mood is in Juba, the capital of the newest nation. “There is celebration, excitement, high hopes and great expectations amongst the South Sudanese for the new country,” she commented. “They have come a long way and understand they still have a long way ahead to build a stronger and prosperous South Sudan and are ready to take up the challenge for a brighter tomorrow.” Today, South Sudan is presented with a golden opportunity to show the world the power and potential of strong local leadership and a vision for a new nation that can transform and sustain development.
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