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South Sudan: Christmas Day babies are miracles

Doctors in military hospitals do not normally deliver a lot of babies, but at the small hospital that serves the Tomping, Juba, peacekeeping base of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, they are suddenly getting a lot of practice. 

More than 30 babies have been born at the base’s hospital in the ten days since the conflict began in South Sudan and some 10,000 people fled to the base for shelter. Altogether, over 90,000 people are estimated to have left their homes because of the violence; the majority women and children.

The doctors at the Tomping base, soldiers themselves from the Cambodian army, are used to treating the ailments of just 1,100 people – most of them quite fit soldiers.

Suddenly, they are desperately trying to cope with the needs of a population of 10,000 civilians who are living in the open with not enough food or clean water. “For the first few days we were treating the injuries of those who had been hurt outside,” says Lt. Col Lv Rui, who is in charge of the hospital. “Now, we are seeing lots of cases of malaria, sore throats and flu and diarrhoea.”

Rui says over the last ten days they have treated some 900 civilians, but “We have not even tried to keep count of how many children are among those we’ve been treating, we are just too busy and too exhausted for that kind of record-keeping.”

Another problem for the hospital has been a lack of paediatric formulas of the medicines as they normally treat only adults. UNICEF is making children’s medicines available to UNMISS hospitals.

20 year-old Nyakuma is one of three mothers who gave birth to Christmas babies at the hospital. Her baby girl, born at 12:56 on Christmas day, does not yet have a name - or a home. Nyakuma and her husband have been living at the compound for eight days “Conditions are very difficult,” she says, “It is dirty and there is no shelter for us. We have to sleep in the open on the ground.” She and her baby are both doing well and will be able to stay at the hospital – where they have a mattress on the floor – for four days. After that, with the hospital so cramped, they will have to go back out into the camp. For now, Nyakuma says, “I am so grateful to be here at the UNMISS hospital to have my baby.”

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