Red Cross ambulance service offers much needed assistance to South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia

Published: 14 August 2014 18:00 CET

Beyene Tafete, 27, a clinical nurse by profession, has just reported to his duty station at the Leitchour refugee camp, 900 kilometres west of Addis Ababa. He is a volunteer with the Gambella branch of the Ethiopia Red Cross Society. About two months ago, he was deployed to the ambulance service working in the camp that currently hosts about 47,000 South Sudanese refugees.

Approximately 150,000 people have fled to safety in Ethiopia following the outbreak of violence in South Sudan in December 2013. The Red Cross has deployed four fully equipped ambulances to evacuate critically ill patients from camps and transit centres to the Gambella referral hospital for further treatment. Each ambulance has a clinical nurse and one volunteer to attend to patients. One ambulance is stationed in Leitchour, with the remaining three in other locations.  

“On average, I deliver three patients a week to the hospital in Gambella about 120 kilometres away from here,” said Beyene. “The journey takes about two and a half hours for us to get there from Leitchour.”

Pregnant women with complications are always sent to the referral hospital to ensure they deliver their babies in a safe environment and under the care of specialist medical staff. “The clinic in the refugee camp sends a midwife with us whenever we have to evacuate a pregnant woman. We are forced to move slowly as the road is very rough. Once we had to deliver a baby along the way to the hospital.” Beyene said.

With the conflict in South Sudan into its seventh month and no end in sight, the refugee population is expected to grow in Gambella, which means the ambulance fleet will have to grow to deal with it. Currently, there is no ambulance on standby when the emergency services team is on the round-trip to the hospital in Gambella.

“I received on-the-job coaching for emergency ambulance services from the Red Cross,” said Beyene. “I hope to further my training to help me serve humanity better.”

The Ethiopia Red Cross Society is working with the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Swiss Red Cross Society, undertaking an emergency operation to respond to the needs of the South Sudanese refugees. Staff and volunteers work closely with Movement partners to provide proper hygiene, sanitation, environmental cleaning, water delivery, household items and emergency health interventions.