Engaging with women’s groups to improve access to community-based health in South Sudan

Published: 10 July 2014 14:50 CET

By Maria Nilsson, Swedish Red Cross

Due to long running tensions, the border areas between South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Central African Republic have been largely abandoned. The presence of armed groups in the thick forests had led to the displacement of thousands of people living close to the borders in all three countries.

When calm returned, hope came that the South Sudanese who had fled further inland would be able to return home. In 2013, that became a reality as some displaced families started arriving back in their villages, only to have their hopes quickly dashed. They found their homes destroyed, boreholes were damaged, and schools and clinics were burned down. Hardly any health care or education services were functional. It is in this environment that many families continue to return, to rebuild their lives, homes and livelihoods.

Western Equatoria State has not been directly affected by the conflict in other areas of the country. This allows the South Sudan Red Cross and International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies to focus on development programming. Together, they have initiated community-based health care projects to strengthen communities in these border areas. By working with women’s groups and focusing on community-based health activities, it is hoped that communities will become stronger, healthier, and better resourced to rebuild their lives in the previously deserted areas. The two identified communities of the project, Birisi and Kumbobangi, have little access to health care and are located in difficult to reach areas, away from the main roads.

The Women for Change Association in Birisi meets weekly to address the challenges facing their community. One example of their determination is the new public health care unit which they built themselves, in the hope that an accessible structure would make it easier to attract service providers to the area.  The Association also says it is ready to rebuild the school, but admits it is a challenge to find teachers who are willing to live in the remote environment. Many still fear the border area and, as a result, the children in Birisi are not able to go to school.

The South Sudan Red Cross will soon start training the women’s groups on community-based health and first aid. This will equip women with the skills to raise awareness and share knowledge on preventing malaria and diarrhoea, the most common diseases in the area.

“The community-based health and first aid approach will increase people’s participation and strengthen communities,” says Jane Amal, community-based health care coordinator, South Sudan Red Cross. “It will encourage community members to adopt practices to prevent common diseases. This is especially important since the communities don’t have health facilities nearby.”