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Violence against health workers exacerbates dire healthcare system: IRC

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) in South Sudan has warned that continuous attacks against healthcare workers are straining an already fragile healthcare system in the country

 IRC and partners launched a survey to identify the characteristics of incidents of violence against the health care system in South Sudan, better understand the impact of such violence and work with stakeholders to advocate for a safe and secure environment while delivering health care services.

“At least 18 health staff were reportedly killed since the start of 2021 and the findings indicate that health workers who have witnessed or experienced such violent incidents are experiencing signs of heightened distress.  As many as 18 health staff were killed and a combined 1,212 working days, or 3.5 years, were missed by health staff following the violent incidents reported as part of this survey. After 73% of reported incidents, communities faced additional difficulties in accessing the required health services. The reluctance of the population to visit health services, out of fear, is among the most important reasons,” it said in a statement issued this week in Juba.

According to UNICEF, South Sudan has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world, with 62 deaths for every 1,000 live births in 2019.

IRC disclosed that malaria is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality, and a cholera outbreak was reported in March 2022, with more than 300 confirmed cases as of early September.

Despite the growing need for intervention, the IRC argued that the country’s healthcare system continues to struggle due to the frequent attacks on healthcare workers deployed in various parts of the country.

“These threats compound an already challenging situation and further complicate efforts to deliver more effective and impactful healthcare support to the people of South Sudan,” it said.

It disclosed that the most commonly reported incidents are attacks on health staff, including killing and arrest, and direct attacks and looting of facilities.

“The impact of such violence on the health system affects the availability of health services at the community level and has a severe impact on the mental and psychological wellbeing of the health workers,” it said.

IRC has been one of the largest aid providers in South Sudan, delivering emergency assistance and supporting vulnerable populations in hard-to-reach areas. Our health response includes capacity building in state clinics, training of local health workers, nutrition programs and sanitation services.

“We also provide support to survivors of sexual violence and child protection services. Community leaders and government officials are trained on the importance of upholding human rights. The IRC helps empower people through cash assistance, job and livelihoods training. Learn more about the IRC’s South Sudan response,” it said.

Cosmas Ayella, Deputy Director of Programs South Sudan, said the findings show that continued insecurity in South Sudan is a worry for health service delivery.

He said that on a daily basis, midwives, clinical officers, nurses, and other health staff risk their lives and wellbeing to provide basic health care services.

“The IRC South Sudan team will continue to work with the Ministry of Health at national and state levels to ensure health staff can safely provide care to everyone in need,’’ it said.

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