South Sudan – As South Sudan celebrates 10 years of independence, health care workers and officials say the health care situation in the world’s newest nation remains woefully inadequate.

Facilities are few and often inaccessible, they say, and violence continues to affect health care workers and communities. 

Health officials say these shortfalls are largely due to insufficient government funding that has persisted since the nation’s 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Dr. Bol Deng, secretary-general of the South Sudan Doctors’ Union, said the situation was made worse by continued budget cuts, amplified by the drop in the nation’s health care allocation in fiscal year 2019-20 to 525 million South Sudanese pounds from 1.7 billion pounds the year before.

This is too small even to cover the components of quality health services that we need,” Deng told South Sudan in Focus. “What you see now is the part of this health financing covered by NGOs (nongovernmental organizations).”

NGOs cover a significant portion of health care in South Sudan.

In addition, health workers say they are hindered by violence between the government and rebel forces, conflict between ethnic communities, and the lawlessness caused by cattle rustling.  

International Committee of the Red Cross spokesperson Lucien Christen told VOA that attacks against medical workers and facilities had caused a “dramatic situation” in South Sudan.

Such attacks have been on the rise in the past couple of months, as at least two aid workers were killed in May alone. They are threatened, beaten and tortured frequently.  

As hundreds of people are killed and injured each year throughout the country, authorities and communities need to work together to build key infrastructure to ensure essential services are available, Christen said.

Only 40% of health care centers in South Sudan remain functional, according to the U.N.,” he added.

Accessing health care is also a hurdle. Many people walk several hours or even days to reach a medical practitioner, according to Christen. 

Across South Sudan, vulnerable persons continue to die from curable diseases or wounds, as access to health care remains very limited. Nine percent of children die before the age of 5,” Christen says. 

World Bank data from 2019 for children under 5 shows South Sudan registered 96 deaths per every 1,000 live births, putting the nation in the top seven countries with the highest infant mortality rates in the world.

Meanwhile, healthcare in Africa faces momentous health challenges. There are many preventable deaths from childbirth and malnutrition, as well as infectious diseases.

In Kenya, spending on health care is just 5.7% of GDP, low by global standards, but it is higher than that of its neighboring countries like Sudan and Ethiopia.

There exists a wide gap for investments in the African healthcare system. According to Global Wellness Institute figures, 6.5 million wellness trips involving US$4.8 billion in expenditure were made between 2015 and 2017 in sub-Saharan Africa.

This means that there is an opportunity for pure play wellness providers to consider collaborating with medical wellness and/or healthcare providers in order to integrate medical wellness as part of their service offering.