“CUAMM will not walk away from Rumbek,” says Chiara Maretti, coordinator of “Doctors with Africa” in South Sudan. She speaks just weeks before an announced aid cut that will bring health care in the country to its knees: the withdrawal of the Health Pooled Fund (HPF), the international donor consortium and main funder of South Sudan’s largest health care programme. The withdrawal is scheduled to become effective as of August 1, a choice dictated by the consequences of the Covid pandemic, but also by the continuing war in Ukraine that forces HPF to cut its contribution to Rumbek Hospital. The facility is where patients in the entire Lakes State, especially for obstetric and surgical emergencies, are referred to. It was handling more than 23 thousand admissions a year, and in 2021 it registered more than 2,600 deliveries, 131 percent more than in 2017.
CUAMM began its work in 2016 in that same hospital, mainly supporting and providing services for mothers and children. Subsequently, it extended its support to the rest of the wards and departments, also from a managerial point of view, and always in collaboration with the government. Rumbek Hospital Medical Director, Teran Madit Teran, explains that “if the donors back out, 90 percent of our activities will have to be cut, and we don’t know what the fate of this hospital will be as of August.” In 2021 alone, over $1 million were poured into the hospital’s coffers by HPF and managed by CUAMM. In 20 days that money, that covered many needs, will be entirely transferred to the government. “We have five partners in this hospital, including CUAMM,” Teran adds, “we will ask them for help, we need everything; staff will have to be paid, and medicines and fuel for the generators will have to be bought.”
“Right now the health care system in South Sudan,” Chiara Maretti explains, “is completely in the hands of NGOs, with the total absence of the State,” which is why Doctors with Africa CUAMM, has supported health centers scattered throughout the territory in addition to the hospital in Rumbek. There are eight large state hospitals throughout South Sudan that will no longer be supported and handed over to government management, which, Maretti points out, “has declared that it has no funds. This means disastrous consequences for the hospitals; it is almost impossible to imagine the impact of this development. From August 1, where will the hospitalized patients go?” And it is impossible for CUAMM to leave, knowing what will happen.
Vincenzo Riboni, who used to head the Emergency Room in the northern Italian town of Vicenza, is no stranger to South Sudan, where he worked in 2018 and 2019. “This time it’s for longer,” he points out. Today, at the hospital in Rumbek, he is a surgeon on duty 24 hours a day. His stethoscope around his neck, he hurries through the wards, stopping at every step to talk to staff, patients and family members. He makes sure the nurses understand his indications, and thanks to the help of translators he engages with patients and their families, watching helplessly as many of them die from causes that would have been treatable elsewhere. “An immense amount of work is needed here,” says Riboni, “it is a difficult hospital, because of the people, because of the type of staff and also because of the logistics.” The commitment is demanding, “a commitment,” the doctor concludes, “that requires attention, patience, determination and lots of passion.”
By Francesca Sabatinelli