Dr Bruno’s freshly pressed white shirt contrasts the sea of colours he passes every morning on his way to work at Al Sabbah Hospital, where dozens of mothers are already waiting, draped in long dresses of countless shades, their babies sleeping in their arms.
Supported by the Health Pooled Fund, Al Sabbah is South Sudan’s only pediatric hospital and families bring their children here from all over the country. The clinic is now running smoother than ever with HPF’s newly opened out-patient department and guaranteed solar panel electricity, but daily challenges in the world youngest country’s health sector abound.
Mary, a young mother of three sits patiently, balancing her two-year-old son Ater on her lab. She arrived in the capital Juba the previous day, after a two-day journey from her hometown. “Ater has been struggling with pain and diarrhea for many days,” Mary explains. “As his condition wasn’t improving, I chose to leave my family behind to take him here. I know he will receive the best treatment at Al Sabbah.”
Mary is just one of the approximately 500 mothers who bring their children here every day, and just like her, many come from far away regions. About 50 patients are admitted to the hospital daily, while the majority is able to return home after treatment.
“Most children suffer from severe malaria, malnutrition or pneumonia,” explains Dr Bruno, the hospital’s main pediatrician. He sits in a well-lit room in the new out patient department, where he now sees his patients. “Previously we only had a tent as a treatment room, but our facilities have improved significantly,” he adds. A hardworking man, Dr Bruno has a family of his own to support, but he is committed to his job at Al Sabbah. “Seeing the new out-patient centre has given me incredible joy. It’s a milestone and it only shows that things are improving in South Sudan,” he says. “Of course we are are still facing many challenges, especially when it comes to capacity of staff and salaries, but I am hopeful for the future.”
Not far from him, outside in the warm sun, sits Julia with her son Michael. The one-year-old is on the up, after having received several days of malaria treatment. He sits curiously, observing other patients walk past. “I wasn’t able to afford treatment and Michael’s situation was deteriorating,” his mother explains. “I’m happy that he is back to health now. We have received such great support here.”
Many mothers and fathers see Al Sabbah as the last hope to save their children’s lives. While healthcare is still basic in South Sudan, access to good services are crucial for the country’s further development.
“Our work is important and has transformed many lives,” Says Dr Bruno. “Often, when I walk through the hospital’s rooms, I take my time to get to know the children. I look into their eyes and also in the parents’ eyes. It’s then that I realise I’m in the right place.”